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CD Review

Claude Debussy

  • Trois Nocturnes *
  • Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • La Mer
* Choeur de Femmes de Orchestre de Paris/Arthur Oldham
Orchestre de Paris/Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 4783618
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Does anyone even remember Daniel Barenboim's Paris tenure? I had forgotten about it, and that has nothing to do with the fact that I wasn't alive yet. The truth of the matter is that the problem with Barenboim as conductor is not that he is some Fürtwangler clone. The problem is that he has a limited amount of music that he has a true affinity for. Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler; these are the composers' with which I generally see the conductor/pianist at his best in, provided that he doesn't revisit them (naturally, he does, but those readings are almost always inferior). All of this is a long way of saying that while he was in France, he tried to record a bunch of French music, and he really ought not have. This is one of the exceptions.

Now released on the budget "Virtuoso" line, these oft-forgotten performances get a second chance. Barenboim proves a fairly successful interpreter. Curiously, although the greatest French conductors (Boulez, Martinon, etc) generally forgo the "impressionistic" nature of this music for clear and direct readings, the Germans (Karajan, Barenboim, etc) tend to wallow and make the music a fuzzy watercolor. Not that this music can't take being a fuzzy watercolor; Faun is lacking in tension, yet still sounds rather lovely. La Mer is generally quite fine, but still suffers somewhat from a lack of firmness within the musical lines.

However, the Nocturnes come off quite well. I suppose that when the movements translate to things like "Clouds", that a fuzzy approach will work. And truly, this is an excellent version, with a particularly lovely finale. The women of the Paris choir sound absolutely wonderful, and DG captures it all in very good sound. I can't recommend this as a first choice, but fans of the conductor will be happy to see this back in print, and attainable at such a low price.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman