Getting to the Heart of Debussy

Jun Märkl’s intuitive expertise brings out the essence of the French master’s music.

Composer: Debussy
Repertoire: La mer; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; Jeux; Children’s Corner
Artists: Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl
Rating: 5/5

Genre: Orchestral
Label: Naxos 8.570759

Debussy intended Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune to be evocative of ‘the successive scenes in which the longings and desires of a faun pass in the heat of the afternoon’, and Jun Märkl creates a deeply sensual, headily intoxicating soundscape to match. His supple handling of phrasing, rhythm, texture and dynamics coalesces into ecstatic sequences of tantalising poetic suggestion, while the ultra-sensitive playing of the Lyon Orchestra is captured by engineering wizard Tim Handley as though it were being experienced through a shimmering heat-haze.

No less remarkable is Märkl’s handling of the three ‘symphonic sketches’ that constitute La mer, throughout which he hypnotically translates the play of light on the water into musical sound so exotically enticing that it feels as though one could reach out and touch it.

Even bearing in mind classic accounts by Karajan (DG), Haitink (Philips) and Cluytens (EMI), this is bewitching music-making that should on no account be missed. Perhaps most revelatory of all is Jeux, an incandescent ballet score that emerges here as one of the miracles of 20th-century orchestral music. Märkl even manages to make André Caplet’s game transcription of the solo piano Children’s Corner suite sound like an original. One of the finest discs Naxos has ever released.