Simon Rattle

Debussy: La Mer

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Because Debussy's iridescent orchestral music depends on the finest gradations of timbres, textures, and dynamics for its magical effects and poetic moods, recordings of such aural marvels as Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune or La Mer often rise or fall on their sound quality. In terms of their playing, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic are almost ideal in their nuanced and expressive interpretations and refined execution of Prélude and La Mer, as well as the seldom-heard arrangement of La boîte à joujoux, completed by André Caplet, and the three preludes, freshly orchestrated by Colin Matthews. Yet because EMI's reproduction is a little unfocused and somewhat chilly and distant, the sound is fairly veiled in the softest passages, and often feels less vibrant than it should at climaxes. One may wonder what these performances would sound like if recorded by a different label, or with some of the clarity and depth of DSD or multichannel technology; no doubt, the Berlin Philharmonic would sound deeper and much clearer, and the subtleties Rattle strives for would be more apparent and audible without straining. As it is, though, this recording is less than it should be, and falls short of transcendence only because the overly cautious engineering holds it back.

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