Debussy's Orchestral works
Images. Berceuse héroïque*. Danse sacrée et danse profane**. Jeux. Nocturnes. Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire. Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune. La mer. Première rapsodie***
**Vera Badings (hp) ***George Pieterson (cl)
Concertgebouw Orchestra / *Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink
Philips Duo 438 742-2PM2 (141‘ · ADD). Recorded *1957, 1976-79 Buy from Amazon
Philips has repackaged Haitink’s late-1970s recordings on two CDs for the price of one. Space has also been found for Debussy’s last orchestral work, the short Berceuse héroïque conducted by Eduard van Beinum (in excellent 1957 stereo). In every respect this package is a bargain. In La mer, like the 1964 Karajan on DG Galleria, there’s a concern for refinement and fluidity of gesture, for a subtle illumination of texture; and both display a colourist’s knowledge and use of an individually apt variety of orchestral tone and timbre.
It’s the wind playing that you remember in Haitink’s Images: the melancholy and disconsolate oboe d’amore in ‘Gigues’; and from ‘Ibéria’, the gorgeous oboe solo in ‘Les parfums de la nuit’, and the carousing clarinets and raucous trumpets in the succeeding holiday festivities. And here, as elsewhere in the set, the Concertgebouw acoustic plays a vital role.
Haitink’s Jeux is slower and freer than average, and possessed of a near-miraculous precision, definition and delicacy. The jewel in this set, for many, will be the Nocturnes, principally for the purity of the strings in ‘Nuages’, the dazzling richness and majesty of the central procession in ‘Fêtes’, and the cool beauty and composure of ‘Sirènes’. Haitink opts for an ethereal distance; there may be passages where you’re unsure if they’re singing or not, but the effect is magical.