“The main event in a month of musical emotion” – Diapason

 

We had begun to despair of this Debussy anniversary, which has been poorly represented on record. But now it lights up, with [this recording by] Stéphane Denève’s Scottish orchestra.

 

Stéphane Denève’s recording of Debussy’s orchestral works with the RSNO has been awarded the ‘Diapason d’Or‘ – the ‘Event‘ of the month for September 2012 – by prestigious French music journal Diapason. The award, which literally means ‘The Golden Tuning Fork’ is considered one of the most important record awards in Europe and crowns a season of reviews for the ‘Denève Conducts Debussy‘ recording.

 

 

 

The magazine’s review makes a flattering comparison with the legendary French conductor, Charles Munch, who made his ‘definitive’ Debussy recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, including La Mer:

Denève maintains the model of Charles Munch: his triptych [of La Mer] has nerve, is raw, brilliant, dramatic – but the disciple here goes beyond the master, who was relying more only on the infallibility of his musicians.

 

And the review suggests that Denève and the RSNO are “at risk” of becoming the “envy” of Paris:

Charles Munch, who always underlined the specificity of the French orchestral sound, would be surprised by the idiomatic colour that Stéphane Denève has obtained from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and all the more because orchestras hardly ever play like this anymore in Paris… His orchestra from Glasgow is at risk of making them envious in Paris!

 

You can read a reproduction of the article in its original French, below, with an English translation following.

Download (PDF, 6MB)

 

Translation of the review:

Marche écossaise (review by Gérard Condé, Diapason)

We had begun to despair of this Debussy anniversary, which has been poorly represented on record. But now it lights up, with both Philippe Bianconi’s piano and Stéphane Denève’s Scottish orchestra.

To conclude, in style, seven years at the helm of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (highlights including a thrilling Roussel series of recordings for Naxos), the French conductor wanted to leave a testimony of his conception of a music that he feels has been abused, through being drawn towards vague blur and abstraction. To follow the detours of the libretto in Jeux, since the stage directions are contained in the CD booklet, one is persuaded that the score  faithfully follows every step of the action). This does not take away anything from the magic of the work but better reflects its structure and its theatricality: the expression of grief of one of the female dancers (a clarinet duet) becomes totally meaningful.

The Music Breathes

If Stéphane Denève excludes any blurring effect in the polyphony (the intertwining counterpoints, so characteristics of Images, sounding here with a rare clarity) it is to focus on the melodic rubato of the various solos which, floating on a strong beat, create another blur – that of the independent hand coordination of, let’s say, a pianist, expert in Chopin’s style. In the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, not only does the flute sing freely, but so does the mass of violins in the central part. The Nuages, which open Nocturnes, really seem to float, dissolving and reconstituting again; the cor anglais is expressing again the eloquence of Tristan’s shepherd. The emotion that grips at the end of the stinging Fêtes is indeed the emotion of going back to life’s usual gloom.

Always lyrical, the music breathes as if it emerged from the bosom of a singer. An ideal singer actually, and the scrupulous respect of the dynamics of the score becomes the strength of these interpretations, the reason for the so irresistible power of the large crescendo of La Mer’s first movement. Denève claims Charles Munch as his model: his triptych has nerve, is raw, brilliant, dramatic – but the disciple here goes beyond the master, who was relying more only on the infallibility of his musicians.

If the Marche écossaise (1891, transcribed from piano to the orchestra in 1908) made Glasgow audiences smile, this second-rate composition was de rigueur. In addition, like the excerpts from L’Enfant prodigue (1884, revised by Caplet) and Printemps (1887, symphonic suite orchestrated by Busser), it has the merit of offering a musical angle less “aesthetically correct” on the art of Debussy which has been enclosed by its zealots in a forbidden circle. One appreciates all the more the fascinating strangeness of the last work, Berceuse héroique (1914).

Charles Munch, who always underlined the specificity of the French orchestral sound, would be surprised by the idiomatic colour that Stéphane Denève has obtained from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and all the more because orchestras hardly ever play like this anymore in Paris.

 

About the recording

The double-SACD is a complete survey of Debussy’s orchestral works – Images, Jeux, Nocturnes, La Mer, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire, Printemps, Two movements from ‘L’Enfant prodigue’ and Berceuse héroïque. It was recorded in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in October 2011/February 2012 and released by Chandos in May, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth.

Denève has received the Diapason d’or for a number of his previous recordings, and in 2007 was awarded the Diapason d’or de l’annee for his recording of Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane/Symphony No3 with the RSNO, on Naxos.

 

What other reviews have said…

“…During his seven concert seasons in Scotland he [Denève] has instilled in the RSNO an idiomatic sound and attitude for the French repertoire, as is strikingly evident from this two-CD set of Debussy… There is nothing vague about these performances; rather they convey both the dynamism and delicacy of the music with understanding and stimulating freshness…” – Geoffrey Norris – Gramophone magazine – August 2012

“…an outstanding release, a praiseworthy contribution to the Debussy anniversary year, and a memento of what has become one of the most distinguished musical partnerships of recent years. Invest with confidence.” – Simon Thompson – MusicWeb-International.com – July 2012

“…the excellence of the playing of the Scottish orchestra and the splendid Chandos SACD engineering makes this two-disc collection a highly desirable memento of Denéve’s tenure.” – Mark Pullinger – International Record Review – July/August 2012

“…an exciting album.” – Franck Mallet – Classica magazine – July/August 2012

“…These are especially sensuous accounts, luxuriating in not only Debussy’s wondrous orchestral colours, but also his love of sound itself… What makes this set notable is the sense of a coherent vision lighting the music from within, a partnership of conductor and orchestra working intensively to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. Praise should be heaped on Chandos for maintaining its commitment both to fulsome, eloquent booklet notes and to SACD… for a set with essentially all of the completed purely orchestral pieces, including a couple of rarities, this is heard to beat.” – Christopher Dingle – BBC Music magazine – August 2012

“…All are performed with finesse and with a combination of energy, discretion and colour that give them a luminous quality.” – Geoffrey Norris – The Telegraph – June 2012

Recording of the Month – “Sumptuous sonic bathing: thrillingly superb.” – Dominy Clements – Music.web-International.com – June 2012

“…Deneve believes that Debussy, should be played not as a blur, as of Monet, but with clarity and this superbly recorded set brings this out admirably…” – Peter Spaull – Liverpool Daily Post – June 2012

“… These are among the most seductive Debussy performances I have heard in years.” – Andrew Clark – The Financial Times – 9 June 2012

“… The RSNO’s playing has moved up a notch under his baton, with luscious string sounds an superb wind soloists. Even that symphonic warhorse La Mer sound freshly reimagined by the young Frenchman, whose sense of the music’s ebb and flow, with surging climaxes, is unerring. On this two disc-set – an ideal way to aquire Debussy’s orchestral masterpieces – even the makeweights are compelling and the rare Marche Ecossaise is an apt souvenir of Denève’s Scottish sojourn.” – Hugh Canning – The Sunday Times – June 2012

“…this is a marvellous compendium, with performances to equal the classic Debussy recordings …” – Christopher Breunig – HiFi News – August 2012

“…The superb playing of the RSNO throughout this set is indicative of the affection and respect and respect with which these musicians hold Stéphane Denève, and this outstanding release is a fitting testimony to the completion of this conductor’s impressive tenure with the RSNO.” – Castor – SA-CD.net – 30 April 2012

“…In each of these performances the RSNO, keenly responsive to Denève after his seven seasons as chief conductor, confirm the absolute precision, transparency and in Jeux as much as anywhere – passion required for these scores. The detail in Images is exquisite (with lovely oboe d’amore solo by Katherine Mackintosh). The Nocturnes, especially Fêtes, achieve a shimmering, decidedly un-Monet-like glaze, and la Mer erupts and glistens.” – Fiona Maddocks – The Observer – 13 May 2012