Debussy: La Mer; Nocturnes; Jeux & Others

Ernest Ansermet / L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

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Debussy: La Mer; Nocturnes; Jeux & Others Review

by James Leonard

Fans of the orchestral music of Claude Debussy will want to hear these recordings by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. This two-disc set includes the composer's four best-known orchestral scores, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, La Mer, Nocturnes, and Images pour orchestre; along with his two most popular transcriptions, Clair de lune and the Petite suite; and three of his less well-known scores, Jeux, the Rhapsodie pour clarinette, and the very early Printemps. In every case, Ansermet and his orchestra turn in exemplary performances. Ansermet knew these works like the back of his hand, and he knew exactly how to make them work, how to balance sense and sensuality in the Prélude, how to balance mass and motion in La Mer, and how to balance clarity and mystery in Jeux. One gets the sense of hearing these pieces "from the inside," that is, from the composer's point of view, and one hears things here that other conductors, even the ultra-lucid Pierre Boulez, have missed. L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande may not be up to the level of other great continental orchestras, and one does catch slips here and there, but the players' affection for the music and for the conductor is palpable and easily overcomes the occasional technical flaws. Decca's monaural sound may not be as crisp and wide-ranging as current digital recordings, but the engineers certainly knew how to record an orchestra, and the sound is as good as it got in the early '50s.

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