Orchestral works

Author: 
Christopher Headington
Debussy, Ravel - AbbadoDebussy, Ravel - Abbado

Orchestral works

  • Nocturnes
  • Daphnis et Chloé Suites, Suite No. 2
  • Pavane pour une infante défunte
  • (Le) Poème de l'extase

I acquired the Debussy/Ravel part of this issue in 1971 on the recommendation of RL (oddly for a single disc, the LP was packaged in a box) and have valued both the interpretation and the fine orchestral and the choral work from the Boston musicians. These qualities remain, but I am much less happy with this CD version. The dynamic level has been raised and the sound roughens in forte, even as early as the fig. 4 chords in ''Nuages'', while the big passages of ''Fetes'' and Daphnis et Chloe are brash. Some sort of close-miking technique always highlighted wind and percussion, but CD now exposes some most distracting noises emanating perhaps from this quarter—taps, creaks, and even something that sounds like a cough (for examples, listen around the five-minute mark in Daphnis or for that matter the ten-minute one in the Scriabin) while the loud breath intakes in bars 2 and (especially) 5 of the Pavane, presumably from the solo horn, are now disturbing where they had been only just noticeable on the LP. Some of Abbado's tempos too now seem less convincing: for example, he is rather quick in the ''Lever du jour'' of Daphnis and slowish in the Pavane—and even slower in the last statement of its main theme.
The Scriabin is played with energy and some subtlety and brings the issue to a generous length (nearly 70 minutes), but the coarse sound detracts considerably from pleasure in a work which in any case piles Pelion on Ossa rather uncomfortably. In short, this is an uncompetitive, dated-sounding issue. For a version of the Debussy Nocturnes, either Davis (Philips) or Previn (EMI) is preferable, but Davis is a little understated (with a rather tame ''Sirenes'') and lacking in sonic bloom compared with the still more recent EMI version: here Previn brings both subtlety and impact to the music and the sound is excellent. True, Abbado's 1970 ''Sirenes'' did swirl rather splendidly, looking forward to La mer, but Previn's (here the Ambrosian Chorus) have more beauty and danger. As for the Ravel, most people today will surely prefer to acquire the complete ballet, say in Dutoit's Decca version (CD 400 055-2DH, 3/83), rather than just its latter third?'

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