SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

* DEBUSSY: La mer; Jeux; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live

****** MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH *****

Published on June 24, 2011

* DEBUSSY: La mer; Jeux; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live

* DEBUSSY: La mer; Jeux; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live multichannel SACD LSO0692, 56:07 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

This is the second SACD in the LSO Live series featuring the dynamic Russian conductor in French music.   Like that one of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, this one shows Gergiev to be a top-flight conductor in the French repertory. The opening Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – spotlighting first flutist Gareth Davies – is a tremendous account of the hackneyed work which starts things off beautifully.

Gergiev’s version of La mer displays the carefully-controlled power and impact of his approach, which fits this wonderfully impressionistic score like a glove. The dynamic range is wide and abetted by the top-rate LSO surround sonics.  One hears all the tiny details of Debussy’s scoring clearly, almost like the clockwork precision of Ravel orchestral works. But at the same time the tremendous forces of nature that Debussy depicted in the work strike one in the gut.  (I always see in my mind’s eye when hearing this work the famous Hokusai painting of that giant wave which Debussy selected for the cover of the original printing of the score.)

Jeux is another one of those ballet scores which came out of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe. It concerns a fleeting encounter with symbolic undertones, among three tennis players. The complex score – felt by some critics to be Debussy’s finest – can be better appreciated in the concert hall environment for its many subtleties.  The constantly-changing tempo markings from Debussy are closely followed by Gergiev.

Toscanini’s old RCA inscription of La mer is one of his finest recorded achievements; in spite of an acoustically-poor studio and poor mono recording, an amazing amount of Debussy’s vivid tone-painting comes thru nevertheless. However, hearing this superb Gergiev performance in state of the art hi-res surround takes the La mer experience to an entirely new level. One almost wants to dry off afterwards…

 – John Sunier




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