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  Chandos -
  CHSA 5102 (2 discs)
  Stéphane Denève conducts Debussy
  Debussy: Images, Jeux, Nocturnes, La Mer, Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, Marche ecossaise sur un theme populaire, Printemps, Two movements from "L'Enfant prodigue", Berceuse heroique

Women of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Stéphane Denève (conductor)
Track listing:
Recording type:
Recording info:
  Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow 10-12 October 2011 and 7-9 February 2012
Producer: Brian Pidgeon
Sound Engineer: Ralph Couzens
Assistant Sound Engineer: Jonathan Cooper

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Submitted by Polly Nomial
Reviews: 4 show all

Site review by Castor April 30, 2012
Performance:   Sonics:  
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by jeff3948 June 16, 2012 (11 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I must say I was very impressed by the detail and beauty of both the performance and the recording of this Debussy 2 SACD set. I followed up with re-listening to versions of the three major pieces, Nocturnes, Images, and La Mer plus the Faun in my collection by Previn, Haitink, Boulez, Tortleir, Ashkenazy, etc. But rather then going laboriously through each of the compared recordings, I'll touch on some here and there.

Compared recordings:
Three Nocturnes:
Tortelier - Ulster (Chandos CHAN 8914) (1990) (DDD)
Boulez - Cleveland (DG 439 896-2) (1993) (DDD)
Ashkenazy - Cleveland (London 417488-2) (1987) (DDD)
Haitink - Concertgebouw (Philips 438 742-2) (1979) (ADD)
Previn - London (EMI CDC 7 47028 2) (1983) (DDD)

Tortelier - Ulster (Chandos CHAN 8850) (1990) ) (DDD)
Haitink - Concertgebouw (Philips 438 742-2) (1979) (ADD)
Previn - London (EMI CDC 7 47001 2) (1979) (DDD)

La Mer:
Tortelier - Ulster (Chandos CHAN 8850) (1990) ) (DDD)
Boulez - Cleveland (DG 439 896-2) (1993) (DDD)
Ashkenazy - Cleveland (London 417488-2) (1987) (DDD)
Haitink - Concertgebouw (Philips 438 742-2) (1979) (ADD)
Previn - London (EMI CDC 7 47028 2) (1983) (DDD)
SACDs of La Mer Only:
Long - Singapore (BIS SACD-1447) Seascapes - Sharon Bezaly
Nezet-Seguin - Orchestre Metropolitain du Grand Montreal (ATMA SACD2 2549) Debussy: La Mer - Nézet-Séguin
Jansons - Concertgbouw (RCO Live RCO 08001) Debussy: La Mer, Dutilleux: L'arbre des songes, Ravel: La valse - Sitkovetsky, Jansons

Prelude to the afternoon of a Faun:
Previn - London (EMI CDC 7 47001 2) (1979) (DDD)
Ashkenazy - Cleveland (London 417488-2) (1987) (DDD)
Oue - Minnesota (Reference Recordings RR-99CD listened to in HDCD)

Stéphane Denève with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra gives us Debussy interpretations that are carefully wrought, sensitive and dramatic when needed. Denève presents delicately and beautifully phased nuances in Images as well as high drama. La Mer, where he produces the ebb and flow needed for a great performance. The tensions come through as well as Previn, Boulez or Jansons, who all do great Debussy. In Nocturnes, Denève's delicately nuanced Sirens was delectable and the chorus's delicacy and combined beauty were ravishing. Credit must also go to the choir master, Timothy Dean. Also, Denève places the sopranos who have the most to sing on the right side, which perfectly compliments and balances the first violins on the left. Only the Haitink did it this way in all the other recordings I compared the Nocturnes too. Regarding Faun, I found that Oue's faun was the best because of Adam Kuenzel's more hypnotic and sensual flute playing and Oue's more flowing interpretation.

However, a couple small caveats, Denève seems to loose some detail in the orchestra just before the ending climax of "Dialogue of the wind and the sea". Perhaps they are not playing loud enough. This reduces the heightened drama. Also, a small caveat is that the last loud cymbal crash at the end of La Mer was a little too loud, louder than any of my other recordings, so beware, because it hurt my ears. I still love Previn's climax to "Dialogue of the wind and the sea", as it always gives me goose bumps and chills up and down my arms every time I hear it. Denève emphasizes the Cymbal Crash and Previn emphasizes the ending brass tuttis, both work well, but Previn is able to give us an even greater sense of drama without the ultra loud cymbal crashes. (Unfortunately, Previn's recording is a little harsh with less hall ambiance compared to the new Chandos recording and of course, no surround sound.)

So, in conclusion, Denève, has captured the nuances and delicacy of Debussy's visions and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has executed those visions in beautiful performances. Denève has produced a Debussy performance where one gets swept up in the wave's undulations, and lost in the sudden swings of emotion. Denève has done a wonderful job here. 4 ½ stars.

Ralph Couzens, the recording engineer, has out done himself in this recorded representation of The Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. First, I compliment him for giving the best choral recording of Sirens I have ever heard. The voices of the choir were absolutely ravishing in their realism. Closing my eyes, it was if I was sitting there in Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow at about the 10 row back relishing in their beautiful tones. As is typical of his work he has a slightly distant microphone technique that defines the orchestra in 2 dimensional space, left to right and front to back. Strings are clearly closest to us and have a beautiful sheen to them which Chandos is known for, then the woodwinds which are spread a little bit too far apart, left to right. But they are much better balanced here in the front to back position compared to his Delius SACD where they are way too far back, and then the brass and percussion are in the back. The string basses, bass drum, and timpani are very good. There is really nice reverberation captured from the hall that gives you that you-are-there experience of surround sound that makes SACD multi-channel so worth it. Over all, this is one of Chandos' best multi-channel recordings, and I have to admit it, it is the best recorded Debussy music that I have heard except for Oue's Faun (no one has surpassed Dr. Johnson's orchestral recordings on his Reference Recordings label). 4 ½ stars.

One final small caveat: The booklet goes so far as to give us Debussy's complete detailed French descriptions of each movement, but does not provide any translation, so it leaves it up to the reader to type the French descriptions into Google translator or find translations on the internet.

Overall 4 ½ stars. I wouldn't be surprised if this wins a Grammy, a Diapason d'or award or a Grand Prix du Disque or all three.

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Review by Celebidache2000 July 16, 2012 (10 of 29 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I received this disc (set) last week with a feeling of great anticipation, after reading many great reviews. My let down was immediate.

I will use the "fish bowl" analogy. Just as a fish bowl distorts light in such a way that the fish inside it cannot be perceived as "free swimming" but are rather "contained" in a fishbowl, then it's my impression that the performances on these (Deneve) discs sound "contained." It's as if a pane of glass separates me from the music. The orchestra sounds veiled and subtly muffled.

I compared the Deneve set to the recordings of both Charles Munch (with the Boston Sympony Orchestra) and Bernard Haitink (with the Concertgebouw) and frankly, Deneve's recording came off second best.

Charles Munch reveals beautiful details of orchestration and more importantly rich, saturated orchestral colors, that Deneve at best suggests but more often misses entirely.

Haitink's recording similarly embarrasses Deneves' best efforts.

Moreover, after many hours of comparing this digital recording to other digital recordings, I pulled out an analog cassette tape that I made thirty years ago of the Debussy Nocturne for Orchestra. I recorded the Nocturne from a record in my uncle’s collection. It was one of my first Debussy recordings (which I used to listen to on a cassette walkman). Despite the slight record player crackle and the faint hiss of the tape (and despite the passage of time), this analog recording sounded shockingly corporeal on my current system with a deep soundstage and images that sounded earily lifelike. I felt that I could shake the hands of the players. Orchestral colors and instrumental timbers sounded shockingly realistic too. The recording sounded rich and dynamic in a way that the Deneve recording did not.

I kept wondering…is Deneve the best that digital has to offer? Why does this old analog recording sound so much more realistic and alive?

The Deneve recording does have some some lovely moments, but they don’t add up to a moving whole, and overall I find this interpretation underpowered, underplayed and uninspiring.

I fear that the Deneve recording represents a case of the Emperor wearing no clothing (given the rapturous reception that it has received from the press). It sounds dull, shut-down and timid.

The 24 bit 96 kHz recording resolution does this interpretation absolutely no favours and may be responsible for the "trapped in amber" quality that I hear.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the Deneve set musically or sonically.

Much better performances in better sound are available on SACD from Haitink, Nezet-Seguin, Mariss Jansons, Fritz Reiner and Charles Munch.

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Works: 9  

Claude Debussy - Berceuse héroïque, L 132
Claude Debussy - Images, L 122
Claude Debussy - Jeux (ballet), L 126
Claude Debussy - L'Enfant prodigue, L 57
Claude Debussy - La Mer, L 109
Claude Debussy - Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire, L 77
Claude Debussy - Nocturnes, L 91
Claude Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, L 86
Claude Debussy - Printemps, L 61