Double Debussy delights

Two captivating performances of some of Debussy's finest works including Music for the Prix de Rome Soloists and Images

Composer:  Debussy
Repertoire: Music for the Prix de Rome Soloists
Artists: Flemish Radio Choir, Brussels Philharmonic/Hervé Niquet
Rating:  5/5
Genre: Vocal/Orchestral
Label: Glossa GCD 922206

Composer: Debussy
Repertoire: Images; Ibéria; Rondes de printemps
Artists: Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl
Rating:  5/5
Genre: Vocal/Orchestral
Label: Naxos 8.572296

Debussy’s ultimate aim during his student years in Paris was to win the prestigious Prix de Rome. In the event it turned out to be something of a mixed blessing: ‘All my pleasure vanished... I felt I was no longer free.’ Thanks to this invaluable collection of ‘Roman’ music, we can now hear Debussy’s conversion to Wagner surging more strongly than ever through his early music’s burgeoning textures. Included here are a number of test pieces for the competition, as well as the cantatas Le Gladiateur (runner-up in 1883) and L’Enfant prodigue (winner the following year). Finest of all in this sumptuously engineered, glowingly played programme is the deeply sensual La demoiselle élue, in its rarely heard, piano-accompanied form. Following Debussy’s exposure to the music of the Far East via the Paris Exhibition of 1889 and the life-altering experience of his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), in which (as he memorably put it) ‘any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free’, by the time he composed his set of three orchestral Images between 1905 and 1912, his musical language had changed beyond all recognition. In Jun Märkl’s expert hands one can immediately sense Debussy using orchestration as a means of articulating each work’s form. ‘You learn more about orchestration,’ Debussy insisted, ‘by listening to the leaves blowing in the wind than by studying treatises.’ Märkl would seem to agree as he magically evokes iridescent textures from which points of sound emerge like piquant sources of light on a canvas. A captivating performance enhanced by four bonus orchestrations. 

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