François-Xavier Roth / Les Siècles

Debussy: Nocturnes; Jeux; Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune

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Harmonia Mundi's series of boxed single discs commemorating the centenary of Debussy's death in 1918 has featured various performers and produced some marvelous albums. This one is exceptional, even as it features works for which buyers have many other choices. The hook presented by the French group Les Siècles and conductor François-Xavier Roth is that these are historical performances of Debussy, with period winds and brasses, and indeed Roth's readings have the virtues such practices have brought to other repertory: smoothness is set aside in favor of the prominence wind lines were intended to have. Sample the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which here has a sort of tropical erotic intensity sometimes missing in mainstream performances. But beyond Roth's handling of the instruments, these are just superbly well-thought-out Debussy performances. The ballet Jeux may have had a romantic theme, but it is a fascinating score, off-putting at first for some but endlessly interesting once you tune into its ways; the title may connote romantic games or simply abstract ones as the music gathers to climaxes that turn out to lead nowhere. The end is one of music's most mysterious non-conclusions, and it gets a pitch-perfect treatment. The differing character among the three nocturnes is also vividly brought out here. Add in excellent, crystal-clear sound from the Philharmonie in Paris, and you have a standout Debussy release. A DVD featuring performances of the Nocturnes and Jeux from a festival in Grenada is included.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
blue highlight denotes track pick