Debussy / Images Pour Orchestre / Argenta

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More Images Pour Orchestre / Argenta 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Presenting Super Hot Stamper sound on side two of this Stereo Treasury LP, which is where this superbly performed, wonderul sounding Iberia can be found. Although lacking in orchestral weight, from about 200 cycles up this copy is perfection. In its own way — especially on systems with not a lot of firepower down low — this side two qualifies as a Demo Disc. 

Argenta is the man for this music; he brings out the folky quality in the work. We much prefer Argenta’s performance to Reiner’s on LSC 2222, which was one of the early releases from Classic Records as well, poorly remastered of course and best avoided. The Classic may be on Harry’s list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record. This STS LP will show you exactly what’s missing from that Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Brilliantly performed by the L’Orchestre de La Suisse Romande under the direction of Ataulfo Argenta.

The famously huge hall The Suisse Romande recorded in immeasurably contributes to the wonderful sound to be found here and on their other recordings. The Classic of LSC 2222 with Reiner on the other hand is all but unlistenable on a high-resolution system. The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information drives us up a wall. Who can stand that sound? All the way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were disparaging the “Classic Records Sound” in our catalogs. With each passing year — 18 and counting — we like it less.

Side Two

A++, so open, airy and sweet, with a lovely extended top end and spaciousness for days. The mids and highs are exquisite, their tonality Right On The Money. How many records can boast of such natural sound? Two per cent? Three? Not many, that’s for sure.

Side One

A+, and very different sound in all respects — what else is new? Big and rich, with tight bass, but not very transparent or three-dimensional, two qualities inportant to the work. Still, enjoyable and musical and better than most classical recordings we play.

The record plays M– to M- — about as quiet as these STS pressings get in our experience.

All Music Guide on Images Pour Orchestra

The three works which collectively form Claude Debussy’s Images for orchestra, not to be confused with the two sets of piano works that go by the same title, are among the more immediately accessible and directly expressive of his later pieces. Although intended to be performed in succession, the Images are frequently heard independently of one another, especially the second, “Iberia,” which remains among the composer’s most frequently played orchestral works. The three works, which continue to be published as separate titles, were initially released at different times, with the first being composed and published several years after the second and third.

“Gigues” was written from 1909-1912, and has a decidedly English flavor. Debussy quotes the English folk tune “The Keel Row” throughout as the tune ebbs and swirls in the colored orchestral texture, surfacing in one instrument, fading back into the texture, and then resurfacing on another instrument. Debussy makes striking use of the oboe d’amore in the opening “Gigues”—indeed, it can be said that this unique instrument constitutes more of a musical “theme” than does any actual melody. A plaintive tone predominates; the few hints of joyfulness are clearly the product of wistful fantasy.

The central “Iberia” (1905-1908), itself divided into three movements, is more outgoing in nature (as French representations of Spanish music and culture almost invariably seem to be). The celebratory yet undeniably aristocratic atmosphere of “Iberia” owes a great deal to the earlier Fêtes from the Nocturnes, which rides the same fine line between the vernacular and the high-minded. Debussy’s score even calls for guitars and castanets, a remarkable request at that time. There is a decadent flavor to “Parfums de la nuit,” whose nocturnal activities form the center of the piece dawn arrives with the feeling that nothing has actually happened.

The last movement of “Iberia” is kaleidoscopic in feel: Debussy presents a series of disconnected, seemingly random (but actually not so in any sense) musical ideas in a manner that foreshadows his Jeux (1912) and the processes used by many later composers, including so-called aleatoric music. The raw exuberance of a Spanish celebration drives the music to heights of a strained passion, and at times seems to be an attempt to conceal a great melancholy.

The last of the Images, “Rondes de printemps,” was composed between 1905 and 1909. It is a product of the same turn-of-the century French obsession with spring that encouraged Diaghilev to commission Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps. Debussy had himself composed an orchestral work entitled Printemps as a young man, and countless musical and literary works from the period go by similar titles.

In Images however, spring has nothing in common with Stravinsky’s famous work. “Rondes de printemps” is an unassuming work based on one of Debussy’s favorite nursery tunes, “Nous n’irons plus au bois,” a melody he incorporated into a number of compositions. Like “Gigues,” “Rondes de printemps” is introspective and nostalgic, short on activity and long on tone-color. “Debussy spreads color throughout the ensemble in a masterly, and deceptively simple display of orchestration, rather than focusing on a single instrument as he did in “Gigues.”

2. Iberia

Debussy wrote Images oubliées in 1894 and two sets of other works for piano entitled Images between 1909 and 1912. He also composed a trio of orchestral works around the same time under the title Images (1905 – 1912). Ibéria is its second movement, in spite of the fact that it was completed first. It is also the lengthiest of the three, by far, having a duration more than twice that of either of the other two. Cast in three sections or movements, it is often performed in concert apart from its siblings and has come to be one of Debussy’s most popular orchestral compositions. The word Ibéria, incidentally, is an archaic name for Spain and has served as the title for other well-known compositions in classical music, such as a collection of piano pieces by Isaac Albéniz.

Ibéria’s three sections are subtitled “In the Streets and Byways,” “Fragrances of the Night,” and “The Morning of a Festival Day.” Its scoring is unusual in requiring guitars and castanets, but the exoticism achieved through the colorful instrumentation is always brilliantly atmospheric, never coming across as momentary cheap effects.

The first section of Debussy’s Ibéria opens with striking Spanish colors in its folk-like themes and brilliant instrumentation—especially brilliant in the imaginative use of the castanets. The music is lively and festive and divulges nothing of Debussy’s France. For the most part, it is joyous and sunny, setting the stage for the nocturnal mood that follows.

“The Fragrances of the Night” maintains the Spanish flavors in its mysterious and subdued music, but in its delicate instrumentation and descriptive sense, it sounds more typically Debussyian, if not French. This is the longest section in Ibéria and while its music is not deep, it is the most brilliantly and subtly atmospheric movement.

The closing panel, “The Morning of a Festival Day,” opens slowly, the nocturnal mood from the previous section lingering. The main section is joyous and festive, with lively themes whose rhythmic manner and rich colors exude the Spanish style. This is the shortest section and its virtuosic orchestration and infectious themes make it regrettable Debussy had not carried on a bit longer here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Gigues
Rondes de Printemps

Side Two

Iberia