Debussy: Orchestral Works Vols. 5 and 6

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Debussy, not only one of the greatest but one of the very most important composers in the history of Western classical music, wrote a relatively small number of orchestral works. Of those, the most famous ones like La Mer and Prelude d’apres-midi d’une faune, are programmed and recorded so frequently that they drown out consciousness of masterpieces like Jeux and the entirety of Printemps. Naxos is recording his entire orchestral catalogue, which now runs to seven volumes.

In point of fact, Debussy did not produce all this music, and these two discs comprise music that Debussy either wrote for the keyboard or sketched and left unfinished, orchestrated by Ansermet, Robin Holloway and other musicians. This ranges from the wonderful Suite bergamasque to a Symphony in B minor that the composer wrote out in piano score when he was eighteen, now presented as another orchestral work. So the content is a mixed bag, and the results are, understandably, mixed. Markl and the Lyon National Orchestra play everything with skill and sensitivity, but much of this music sounds like novelties, curiosities, exercises. The results also vary with the skill and intelligence of the orchestration, from sounding like the work of students trying to imitate Debussy, to accurately representing his musical values. In that regard, the later volume is more consistently successful, and even enjoyable. These are generally non-essential recordings, although for those who love Debussy, there will be satisfaction in have a complete body of work.

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