Debussy Chamber & Vocal Works

Author: 
Lionel Salter
Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and HarpDebussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp

DEBUSSY Chamber & Vocal Works

  • Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp
  • Syrinx
  • (La) Flüte de Pan
  • Chansons de Bilitis

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, until recently first flute of the Lyon National Opera, 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 I have hitherto cherished as yardsticks for the sonata – the classic Melos of 1962 and the Nash of 1991.
Bernold captures the spirit of rapture in Syrinx (where his long, controlled diminuendos and his use of pauses are notable), which is heard both in its usual form as an unaccompanied solo and as it was originally intended, as incidental music to a play, Psyche. Unfortunately Irene 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, for a nude tableaux vivants performance of which, in 1901, Debussy wrote ‘topping and tailing’ music – some of which he later reused in his Epigraphes antiques. The scrappiness of the music, for all its seductive quality (and playing), scarcely adds up to a rewarding whole. It was Debussy’s own idea to make a transcription for flute and piano of the Prelude a l’apres-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, as it also did in James Galway’s version (RCA, 8/96). '

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