WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Debussy: La Mer; Ravel: La Valse, Ma Mere L'oye / Chung, Seoul Philharmonic

Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 4764498  
Composer:  Claude DebussyMaurice Ravel
Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
This title is currently unavailable.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY La Mer. RAVEL Mother Goose: Suite 1. La Valse 1 Myung-Whun Chung, cond; Seoul PO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 449 (54:11) 1 Live: Seoul 5/20/10

No, we didn’t really need more recordings of these works. According to my rough count, there are 70 available Read more recordings of La Mer (not counting DVDs), 68 of La Valse , and 22 of the Mother Goose Suite in its orchestral form (not counting CDs of the complete ballet score). Myung-Whun Chung took over the Seoul Philharmonic in 2006 and my guess is that this relatively short CD is his and his orchestra’s way of nailing their colors to the mast, and these performances, whether or not they rank among the elite ones, are hardly eaten up alive by the formidable competition. I am particularly fond of his very detailed and flexible La Valse ; the voices that he brings out give the piece an air of impending menace—one senses the agitation that’s transpiring under the lush, echt -Viennese surface and the sound is potent. In fact, it’s pretty potent in La Mer , too—I am impressed by the clear, powerful timpani. His introduction is patiently built and suggests (at least to me) that something good will soon happen, and there are few disappointments in “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea.” My only real disappointment is that the climax, while majestic enough, is opaque and sonically smeared. No complaints about “The Play of the Waves,” and “The Dialog of Wind and Sea” is dramatic, exposing interesting and telling details in the score. My only gripe about the warm, sensitive performance of the Mother Goose Suite is that we lose a couple of important wind passages in “Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas,” a minor reservation, indeed. The Ravel selections were recorded with an audience present but there’s no significant sonic difference between them and La Mer . It turns out that my biggest complaint is that the CD doesn’t contain another Debussy or Ravel piece. What’s here is high-class music-making by a conductor who has his own take on the music.

FANFARE: James Miller


This disc presents some classics of the French orchestral repertoire played by an orchestra few will have heard - or heard of, the Seoul Philharmonic.

Debussy’s La mer is one of his most successful orchestral works, and seems to be more popular than the Nocturnes of 1897-99 and the Images of about ten years later. Debussy’s music usually proceeds by continuous waxing and waning of intensity, and this method naturally lends itself to the evocation of a seascape. The work is based on thematic fragments, often using the pentatonic or whole-tone scales, which are extensively elaborated. Debussy’s orchestration is original as well, using sections of the orchestra opposed to each other in blocks, alternating with expressive solos. There are a few surprising echoes of Sibelius in this work, particularly in the horn writing: both composers connected with nature in a way that went way beyond the sentimental and the picturesque.

Chung takes quite a gradual approach in From dawn to midday; at first hearing I thought it a little cautious. The second time I played it at a higher volume and it seemed to come together more. The tendrils of sound at the opening grow inexorably, and the woodwinds in the mid-section have warmth without sounding “spotlit”. The timpani have good presence in the tuttis, which are just a little on the dry side. The brass solos are excellent in Jeux de vagues, which mounts to an exciting climax. The performance really takes off in Dialogue du vent et de la mer, which builds quite a bit of tension. The violins’ long inverted pedal passage has an icy quality, and the chorale-like brass passages are very well played and reproduced. Chung takes very much the long view in this work, and his strategic approach pays off.

John Barbirolli recorded La mer in the late 1950s with the Hallé Orchestra. Although he was better known for performances of Mahler, Elgar and Vaughan Williams, he sounds very much at home in French repertoire as well. Certainly the recording is extremely vivid, with resonant harp sound, and a generally much closer sound-picture than the Chung. Barbirolli’s approach is characteristically romantic, and he brings a great deal of warmth and excitement. Only the lack of bass extension at the tuttis betrays the age of the recording.

Ravel’s Mother Goose originates in a suite for piano duet written in 1910. The title was taken from a collection of fairy tales, and suggests that the work was intended for children. Ravel produced an orchestral version the following year, and expanded it into a ballet score in 1912. Although Mother Goose was written not long after La Mer, it sounds totally different. Ravel uses more melodies of more conventional length than Debussy, often given to solo woodwinds or strings. Ravel’s evocation of childhood has episodes that are grotesque as well as playful, but for the most part Mother Goose is a work of tenderness and nostalgia.

The Seoul woodwinds are again impressive, playing their solos with sensitivity; their interplay with the violins in Petit poucet is quite beautiful. The bird-calls and the faux-Oriental writing in Laideronette is vividly done. The closing Jardin feérique opens gravely, rising to an ecstatic climax at the final cadence. Mention should be made of the violin solos too, which are ardent and perfectly in tune. Chung shapes the melodies carefully, and does not drive the music too hard. This is an accomplished and charming performance of Mother Goose that gives the section leaders a chance to shine. The disc concludes with La valse, a work that I personally think sounds a bit blowsy and trashy after Mother Goose, but which is here given a rendition that captures its glitter and hysteria most effectively. Both Ravel works were recorded in front of an audience, something that I feel gives them a slight edge over the Debussy. The recording itself is very natural; the bass drum in La valse has a convincing thud. There is a little dryness that probably reflects the acoustic of the Seoul Arts Centre.

Barbirolli includes Mother Goose and La Valse with La Mer on a disc that forms part of the 10CD set entitled Sir John Barbirolli: the great EMI recordings (EMI Classics 50999 40577670204). Mother Goose is affectionately phrased, with again a closer recording than the Seoul performance. The disc also includes the Daphnis and Chloé Suite no. 2.

Collectors who are looking for a La Mer and Mother Goose coupling with modern recorded sound will be rewarded for taking a punt on the Seoul Philharmonic. This recording may not displace classic readings such as Karajan’s or Reiner’s, but it is extremely competent. The playing is precise and responsive, and the woodwinds and brass are excellent; only the string section lacks the richness of a really top ensemble such as the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics.

-- Guy Aron, MusicWeb International
Read less

Works on This Recording

La mer by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
La valse by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; France 
Ma mère l'oye by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title