0 of 5 stars

La mer – three symphonic sketches
Zhou Long
The deep, deep sea
The Sea – Suite for orchestra
The Sea – fantasy for large orchestra, Op.28

Sharon Bezaly (alto flute & piccolo)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui

Recorded August 2004 and July 2005 (Bridge) in the Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: BIS-SACD-1447
Duration: 80 minutes

The power and mystery of the sea is the binding feature of these four very different works that are further bound by the excellence of these performances and of the recorded sound.

While a preferable order of fare would have been Glazunov – Bridge – Zhou Long – Debussy, there’s no doubting that this particular account of La mer – to begin the disc – is one of the best to have appeared in recent years. It is most beautifully played, but not in a consciously sensual way. Rather Lan Shui shapes this masterpiece with deep expression and phrasal fluidity, balancing textures with a fine ear and making something of every bar without losing sight of Debussy’s symphonic construction: an eventful, subtly variegated reading that is both compelling and satisfying, and played with real assurance and responsiveness and without compromising the unleashing of ripples and spray; what is never sacrificed is clarity and poise. (Lan Shui rejects the ad lib brass fanfares in the finale.)

Sharon Bezaly takes part in Zhou Long’s 10-minute piece (for alto flute and piccolo with an orchestra consisting of timpani, harp and strings). The music is poised between Eastern and Western elements – the two here mixing very persuasively with an atmosphere and evocation that is constantly engaging in its song, colour and rhythmic pointing.

It’s good to have Frank Bridge’s four-movement suite included; it’s a lovely work and is played here with the utmost sympathy – whether in grandeur, deftness or moonlight seductiveness. Bridge’s sea-inspired score followed Debussy’s by just a few years and, while not aping any of Debussy’s invention, it is certainly possible to hear Bridge stylistically crossing the Channel. Glazunov’s fantasy is the most gestural of the pieces here; this is a stormy sea with monsters lurking below and cliffs jutting imposingly upwards. Elemental fury is to the fore until harps and high woodwinds add sunlight to calmer waters after the dramatic flourishes of earlier and the work closes affectingly in peaceful and soulful refrains.

Throughout, the Singapore Symphony plays with bloom, lucidity, fluency and affection, and Lan Shui has spent painstaking time on the nuts and bolts of music-making before adding much that is programmatic and colourful; these thoughtfully considered performances abound with character and vividness. Recording quality that is superbly clean, spacious and dynamic completes a very distinguished release.

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