For this 2007 disc -- their 16th for the BIS label -- conductor Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony have turned to a subject quite congenial to musicians of an island nation: the sea that surrounds them and shapes their lives. Thus, three of the four works bear the same title -- Debussy's La Mer, Bridge's The Sea, and Glazunov's The Sea -- and one bears a title not far from the others -- Zhou Long's The Deep, Deep Sea. But while the program is quite attractive, what makes this disc special are the performances.
There have been hundreds of recordings of Debussy's La Mer over the years but none of them are anything like this one. Shui's tempos are more elastic than most -- listen to him stretch out in the first statement of the closing movement's big theme -- his colors are more luminous than most -- listen to him irradiate the central movement's lines with the sprays of color -- and his forms are more fluid than most -- listen to him shape and sculpt the opening movement's enormous arch. Any of these elements alone would be unusual; the combination of the three is a La Mer unlike any other. For this performance alone, the disc is well worth hearing.
The rest of the disc's repertoire is perhaps more interesting, though ultimately less compelling. Shui and the Singapore Symphony -- a strong, supple, alert, and above all individualistic orchestra -- give everything they have to Bridge's four-movement fin de siècle tone poem, Glazunov's single-movement Wagnerian tone poem, and Long's single-movement pan-global tone poem for alto flute, timpani, harp, and strings. Indeed, one might argue that Shui and the Singapore with ace flutist Sharon Bezaly give too much -- and get little in return. Bridge's tone poem is too enthralled by Strauss, Glazunov's tone poem is too slavish to Wagner, and while Long's tone poem is more original in its fusion of styles, it's pretty thin listening. Still, for their unique La Mer -- and for Bis' stunningly immediate sound -- this disc is worth hearing.