Debussy / Images Pour Orchestre – Argenta

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this London Stereo pressing
  • Both the Ansermet on London and the Munch on RCA are better recordings, but both sell for quite a bit more money than this Stereo Treasury, so if can’t see spending the kind of bread they command, here is a much more affordable alternative that is guaranteed to satisfy
  • These sides are open, airy and sweet, with a lovely extended top end and spaciousness for days
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, and for recordings of Debussy, that is quiet indeed

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 TAS 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 — nearly 30 and counting — we like it less.

This vintage London pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Images Pour Orchestre Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1957
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For On Images Pour Orchestre

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.


Side One

Rondes de Printemps

Side Two


Par Les Rues Et Par Les Chemins
Les Parfums De La Nuit
Le Matin D’un Jour De Fête

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.”

IberiaDebussy 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.

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