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Claude Debussy: Musique De Chambre

Debussy / Aubier / Berrod
Release Date: 08/14/2012 
Label:  Indesens   Catalog #: 40   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Vincent LucasLise BerthaudMarie-Pierre LanglametNicolas Prost,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Nocturnes: Fêtes. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano. Syrinx. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Rhapsody for Saxophone and Piano. Cello Sonata. Danses sacrée et profane Eric Aubier (tpt); Vincent Lucas (fl); Philippe Berrod (cl); Nicolas Prost (sax); Lise Berthaud (va); Ludwig Quandt (vc); Marie-Pierre Langlamet (hp); Pascal Gallet, Emmanuel Read more Strosser, Claire Désert, and Laurent Wagschal (pn); Members of Berlin PO INDÉSENS INDE040 (78:13)

This is a puzzling release in several respects. It is billed as “Chamber Music with Winds” and includes a variety of Debussy works, some in their original form and some rearranged to fit the above description. (Apparently the trumpet is to be considered a wind instrument, just not a woodwind.) But there are two items on the program that have no winds at all, the D-Minor Cello and Piano Sonata and the Danses sacrée et profane . In the sonata, instead of a wind instrument substituting for the cello, as one might expect, we get a harp in place of the piano. I cannot deny, however, that the harp sounds perfectly appropriate in this music, that the playing of harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet and cellist Ludwig Quandt is excellent, and that they give a scintillating performance of this evocative piece. The Danses are performed by harpist Langlamet and a string quintet consisting of members of the Berlin Philharmonic, instead of a full string orchestra. Once again we are treated to excellent playing by the harpist, but the reduction in string forces deprives the music of the spaciousness it deserves.

The disc opens with Fêtes , in an arrangement by Joachin Jousse for trumpet and piano that I find pretty awful. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hear the music in this form rather than in Debussy’s orchestration, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of trumpeter Eric Aubier and pianist Pascal Gallet. Next comes Gustave Samazeuilh’s arrangement of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune for flute and piano. Here there is no need to introduce a wind instrument, since the solo flute is already present in Debussy’s score (although not as continuous a factor as in this arrangement), but a reduction of the orchestral part is required to convert the piece to chamber music. “Would it be heresy to offer an arrangement of this work for flute and piano?” the notes inquire, in my translation from the French-only text. Debussy’s “attention to timbre could lead one to believe so.” I rest the case. Admittedly, the performance by flutist Vincent Lucas and pianist Emmanuel Strosser is enjoyable and might be satisfying if one hadn’t heard the orchestral score.

We are on firmer ground with the two rhapsodies, since both are unadulterated Debussy and in their original form. Both were orchestrated later, in the case of the Saxophone Rhapsody by another hand after the composer’s death. The Clarinet Rhapsody is flawlessly performed by pianist Claire Désert and clarinetist Philippe Berrod, who impresses with his beautiful tone and effortless precision. The Saxophone Rhapsody too receives a persuasive performance, alternately serene and energetic, although saxophonist Nicolas Prost’s tone can become a bit harsh in loud passages. He is joined by still another pianist, Laurent Wagschal. The disc contains two performances of Syrinx , one in its original form for solo flute and the other played on the trumpet. Eric Aubier makes the best case he can for the trumpet version, playing superbly, with steady and focused tone, but the more piercing sound of his instrument seems less suited to this music than the mellow tone of the flute. On that instrument, Vincent Lucas offers a more flexible and inflected performance, although his tone is less than ideally steady in held notes.

The Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp of 1915 was one of Debussy’s last works and, with the kaleidoscopic colors offered by this unusual combination of instruments, surely one of his loveliest. It receives a vivid performance from Lucas, Langlamet, and violist Lise Berthaud, diminished only by the flutist’s aforementioned tendency sometimes to waver too much on long notes. Timothy Hutchins, the flutist of the Montreal Chamber Players, is steadier in a fine performance on the ATMA label, but the French musicians are a bit more energized, and the more spacious ambiance of their recording is also a plus.

Some of the instrumental soloists on this disc are affiliated with major orchestras. Ludwig Quandt and Marie-Pierre Langlamet are, respectively, the principal cellist and principal harpist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Philippe Berrod and Vincent Lucas are the principal clarinetist and flutist of the Orchestre de Paris. The reason for the participation of four different pianists in this enterprise is unclear, but all seem more than up to their tasks. The sound of this release is for the most part very good, with a spacious ambiance and precise placement of the instruments. The saxophone rhapsody suffers from a bit of congestion in peaks, however, and the string quintet in the Danses sounds rather dense and dry. The latter item also seems to have been recorded at a higher level than the rest of the program. The selections on the disc were recorded over a fairly extended period, from 2010 through 2012, and at four different locations, which accounts for some differences in sound quality.

As I indicated at the outset, the concept behind this release puzzles me. If pieces not involving winds are to be included, why not bring in some other genuine Debussy chamber works, such as his String Quartet, Piano Trio, and Violin Sonata, rather than resorting to arrangements of questionable value to fill out the disc? There is even a wind chamber work, the Petite pièce for clarinet and piano, that is not included on this recording. I can recommend the fine and well-recorded performances of authentic Debussy works on this disc, but some of its space could have been better used.

FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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Works on This Recording

Syrinx by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Vincent Lucas (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 pub 1927; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor by Claude Debussy
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; France 
Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Lise Berthaud (Viola), Vincent Lucas (Flute), Marie-Pierre Langlamet (Harp)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; France 
Rhapsodie for Saxophone and Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Nicolas Prost (Saxophone), Laurent Wagschal (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1901-1908; France 
Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Philippe Berrod (Clarinet), Claire Désert (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1910; France 
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Vincent Lucas (Flute), Emanuel Strosser (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1892-1894; France 
Nocturnes (3) for Orchestra: no 2, Fêtes by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Eric Aubier (Piano), Pascal Gallet (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1897-1899; France 
Danse sacrée et danse profane by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Marie-Pierre Langlamet (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904; France 
Syrinx by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Eric Aubier (Trumpet)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 pub 1927; France 

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