Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp
Coupled with Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune (arr Samazeuilh). Syrinx. La flûte de Pan. Chansons de Bilitis
Irène Jacob (spkr) Philippe Bernold, Mathieu Dufour (fls) Gérard Caussé (va) Isabelle Moretti, Germaine Lorenzini (hps) Ariane Jacob (pf, celesta)
Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1647 (50‘ · DDD · T). Buy from Amazon
The high-point of this disc is a beautifully sensitive performance of Debussy’s elusive late sonata, a ‘terribly sad’ work according to the composer himself, but also containing in its latter two movements an uneasy kind of high spirits born of desperation. The opening and close of the first movement provide two of those haunting moments at which French composers seem to excel. Philippe Bernold is a player of delicate, refined tone whose descents to the edge of sound are hypnotic in their effect; and with his two partners the performance rivals those recordings hitherto cherished as yardsticks – the classic Melos of 1962 (Decca) and the Nash of 1991 (Virgin Classics). Bernold captures the spirit of rapture in Syrinx, which is heard both in its usual form as an unaccompanied solo and as it was originally intended, as incidental music to a play, Psyché. Unfortunately Irène Jacob, who reads the text admirably, is too distantly placed in relation to the flute. The same criticism applies to the erotic Chansons de Bilitis poems. It was Debussy’s own idea to make a transcription for flute and piano of the Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune; but imaginatively as Samazeuilh wrote this and Ariane Jacob plays the piano part, the sensuous magic of this score suffers from this reduction of colour.