When he made this recording, Yannick Nézet-Séguin was one of the hottest young conductors in the world, having been conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal since 2000 as well as poised to assume leadership of the Rotterdam Philharmonic from the departing Valery Gergiev in 2008. Nézet-Séguin has made several fine recordings for ATMA Classique with the Orchestre Métropolitain, including works of Bruckner, Mahler, Saint-Saëns, and Nino Rota, and ATMA's themed disc La Mer is no exception to the rule thus established. Of course, any classical orchestral collection entitled "La Mer" that does not include the same named work of Debussy would not be worth its asking price. Naturally, that is featured here along with Britten's Four Sea Interludes, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, and a propulsive, cinematic, and jazzy piece, Kaléidoscope, by Canadian composer Pierre Mercure, written well before he adopted the twelve-tone system.
ATMA's recording is great -- you can feel "La Mer" rumbling into your physique even before it is clearly audible to the ear, and the strings are clear, well defined, and sweet in the Mercure. There are tiny flaws in the performance, though of the kind ATMA's exceptionally close recording tends to amplify; the horn soloist in Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune takes a breath during the opening horn solo, and you can hear it. In the "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" the pacing seems a little forthright in some passages and this affects the sense of ebb and flow in the first part of the movement; it's a little awkward, and may be due to youthful enthusiasm. Better that than sludge and pollution, which Nézet-Séguin certainly never brings to the table here -- the Britten Sea Interludes are cool, controlled, and nicely balanced. The standard items here come off well, but the Mercure assumes center stage within this program; it's sort of like Arthur Honegger and John Adams getting into a time machine and meeting up in the late '40s. Those already dedicated to versions of the Debussy and Britten works may not need to augment them with this one, but others interested in Nézet-Séguin himself will find ATMA's La Mer quite satisfying.