Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Debussy : Heras-Casado Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, La mer

From the current  Debussy series on Harmonia Mundi, Pablo Heras-Casado and the Philharmonia  Orchestra with Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Le Martyre de saint Sébastien and La Mer. A stylish reading,  from a gifted young conductor and one of London's finest orchestras.  I first heard Heras-Casado when he was a student at a Pierre Boulez masterclass series in Lucerne, where he created such an impression that he went on to conduct orchestras like the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble Intercontemporain.  He's developed a solid reputation and a wide-ranging repertoire, so he's well worth hearing.   This disc, part of a set still in progress, represents good value.  In this centenary of the composer's death the series is worth investigating, since it includes many good musicians, covering the breadth of Debussy's ouevre. 

A poised reading of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune L86,  the flutes leading seductively, lower timbred winds, harps and strings providing lush background.  A good sense of flow, important in a piece which would inspire one of the most famous ballets of all time.  Lovely circular shapes in the strings,  evoking perhaps the movement of a faun langorously turning its body, horn, winds and harps adding detail. 

Many will buy this recording, though, for Le Martyre de saint Sébastien L124, a four movement orchestral suite.  The first tableau, Le Cour de Lys, begins with tentative stirrings, executed with clear precision. Something is stirring. Sonorous strings and winds murmur. Though Sébastien is a saint, the imagery is erotic. Debussy and his contemporaries were no prudes.  Turbulence in the Danse extatiquethe pace agitated yet languid, bright sharp chords shining. For a moment a dark, menaciung rumble before a glorious finale.  The strings elide nicely in the third tableau, The Passion, echoed by darker motifs.  At once a sense of forward thrust and sensual  response.  Particularly lovely winds, colours intensified by deeper, more mysterious undertones.  A new motif emerges, delicate, bright figures meeting somnolent overtones, winds and brass calling forwards.  A particularly beautiful final movement with well shaped long lines, strings shimmering against a hushed backdrop, culminating in triumphant blaze. 

Le Martyre de saint Sébastien here creates a bridge between the sensuality of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and the vigour of La Mer. Heras-Casado and the Philharmonia capture the variety and textures that give life to this piece : lines comprising multiple, ever-changing figures, always in motion.  The Dialogue between Wind and Sea flows exuberantly. A refreshing, open-air feel,  surgiung and subsiding.  There are dozens of recordings of this piece but this is reliable enough to stand on its own merits.

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