Debussy / La Mer / Ansermet

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More La Mer / Ansermet 

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

We were impressed with the fact that this vintage London pressing excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, allowing the listener to inhabit the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. Depth and transparency are key to losing yourself in the music, and this pressing offers plenty of both.

White Hot Stamper “can’t be beat” sound on side one for La Mer. Side two is also White Hot for this 1965 Victoria Hall recording. Front row center seating for both sides in the best Decca tradition. Ansermet and the Suisse Romande bring out the beauty in this enchanting, enigmatic work.

Side One

Listen to the huge size and formidable weight of the tympani — not many classical recordings we play can reproduce that instrument so clearly and accurately.

This side could not be beat in any area. It’s the most spacious, three-dimensional, open, clear, and liveliest.

There is an earlier Ansermet recording by Decca of the work from 1957 that we will be offering. It is the only other pressing of this sonic quality that we know of. Although the shootout was close, we would give our London here the nod for the better sound of the two top copies.

Side Two

Rich, tubey and spacious, with transparency that lets the listener revel in the tremendous depth of the hall, the sound here is truly breathtaking.

This side had a natural tonal balance with a very extended top end (the kind of top end not normally found on vintage Golden Age pressings).

If you like Living Stereo sound you should be very impressed with this pressing. We certainly were.

Engineering

James Lock was the engineer for these sessions from 1965 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

La Mer

Side Two

Khamma
Rhapsody For Clarinet and Orchestra

La Mer

Debussy’s La Mer is one of the most famous non-symphonic orchestral pieces ever written.

La Mer goes a great deal farther than any previous work—by Debussy or any other composer—in capturing the raw essence of this most evocative of nature’s faces. La Mer is no mere exercise in musical scene-painting, but rather a sonic representation of the myriad thoughts, moods, and basic instinctual reactions the sea draws from an individual human soul.

La Mer comprises three distinct movements: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From Dawn to Noon on the Sea), “Jeux de vagues” (The Play of the Waves), and “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea).

As in so much of the composer’s mature music, it is not always possible to draw a clear distinction between thematic material and accompaniment and texture. Indeed, texture itself is often paramount in Debussy’s music; what few glimpses of discreet melodies the movement affords (such as the glassy violin solo that arrives some sixty bars into the piece are soon subsumed into the complex orchestral fabric.

There are passages during which the rhythmic and metric scheme is obscured, perhaps intentionally so, by as many as six or seven different layers of simultaneous activity. The movement ends with one of the most striking of the composer’s musical affirmations: In an enigmatic gesture, the final forte-fortissimo brass attack dies away to piano as the movement draws to a close.

The scoring of “Jeux de vagues” is, on the whole, more austere than that of the first movement. Frequent trills and bursts of rhythmic vitality vividly bring to life the movement’s frolicsome, unpredictable subject matter, while the extremely quiet ending purposely fails to resolve any of the musical expectations set out in the preceding, more active sections. The scoring of this passage (solo flute and harp harmonics) recalls the identical orchestration as used by the composer at the end of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Indeed, these parallel passages are quite similar in dramatic purpose.

The final “Dialogue” is a tumultuous juxtaposition of an urgent, articulated rhythmic gesture—first introduced pianissimo by the cellos and basses and ingeniously manipulated throughout the movement. A sustained forte-fortissimo brings this violent, elemental work to a powerful close.

All Music Guide

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy (born Achille-Claude Debussy) was among the most influential composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His mature compositions, distinctive and appealing, combined modernism and sensuality so successfully that their sheer beauty often obscures their technical innovation. Debussy is considered the founder and leading exponent of musical Impressionism (although he resisted the label), and his adoption of non-traditional scales and tonal structures was paradigmatic for many composers who followed.

Debussy wrote successfully in most every genre, adapting his distinctive compositional language to the demands of each. His orchestral works, of which Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and La mer (The Sea, 1905) are most familiar, established him as a master of instrumental color and texture. It is this attention to tone color — his layering of sound upon sound so that they blend to form a greater, evocative whole — that linked Debussy in the public mind to the Impressionist painters.

Allen Schrott