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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Debussy on the Beach

Cover of the original score of La Mer.
Thanks to the power of Google, I just found some YouTube footage of my favorite recording of Claude-Achille Debussy's La Mer.

This is a gorgeous cycle of what the composer called Symphonic Sketches, depicting the ocean in various stages of wind, rain, play, and sunlight. The footage is of the San Francisco Bay Area. The band is the Cleveland Orchestra, under the expert direction of Pierre Boulez.

La Mer premiered in 1905 in Paris. Although it was not well-received at the first performance, the cycle of tone poems eventually became one of Debussy's most popular showpieces. It is notable for the constant, shifting textures in the strings and wind, and the bright surge of brass and timpani that calls out the climax of the first movement.

So here's the three movements:

Part I: From Dawn til Noon on the Sea

Part II: Dance of the Waves

Part III: Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea

This 1995 recording won a whole mess of awards in a period when Pierre Boulez was starting to re-make a lot of his great recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. The Cleveland Orchestra are in excellent form here, and they respond well to Maestro Boulez' leadership.

For some reason, Debussy's impressionistic music always sounds right to me when conducted by Boulez--his precise style and crisp inflections sharpen the aural edges of each work, making the music clearer and to my ears, more enjoyable.

The disc also includes an ethereal reading of Nocturnes (sort of a sequel to La Mer) and a performance of the complex ballet score Jeux. I've had it in my collection (in one form or another) since my grad school days, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats