Andrew von Oeyen / Emmanuel Villaume / Prague Philharmonia

Ravel: Ma Mère l'Oye; Debussy: Fantasie; Bizet: Symphony in C

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Eastern European orchestras often have an affinity for French music, and the PKF-Prague Philharmonia (awkwardly named, it's true) is in its element here, led by French conductor Emmanuel Villaume. Buyers might pick this album based on any one of the three compositions, and the group of strong performances of all three makes it really notable. The main attraction comes first, in the form of the orchestral version of Ravel's Ma mère l'Oye Suite, or Mother Goose Suite, whose humor is effectively rendered. The rarest of the three pieces is the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra of Debussy, the composer's only work for piano and orchestra. It's from early in Debussy's career, in the classical three-movement form, and the trick, expertly executed by pianist Andrew von Oeyen, is to catch the incipient mature Debussy bubbling under the surface. Sample the first movement, where all the student moves to a new theme are in place, but the music then stalls as Debussy begins to realize the possibilities of stasis. The best is saved for last: Bizet's Symphony in C major, written when the composer was 17, is clean and zippy, full of youthful energy. This is a top choice for this work, which is not rare, but of which good recordings are not abundant. Warner Classics deserves praise for delving into some little-known repertory and making it click here. Complaints are few. The graphics put Debussy's death year as 1928. One wishes he had lived that long.

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