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Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, L 86 – Le Martyre de saint Sébastien, L 124 – La Mer, L 109
Philharmonia Orchestra, Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor)
Recording: Henry Wood Hall and Royal Festival Hall, London, England (January 2018) – 57’04
harmonia mundi HMM 902310 – Booklet in French and English (Distributed by PIAS)

Don’t leave anything to chance when Pablo Heras-Casado takes to the podium. The Iberian’s muscle flexes in the most strategic places along the paths of these three Debussy passages. harmonia mundi smartly chooses three distinctly different works to venerate the centenary of Claude Debussy’s death.

This rendition of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune finds M. Heras-Casado gently pulling back on the tempo, allowing the listener to bask in the glory of some very delectable textures, particularly those stemming from the cellos. The solo violin segment, though fleeting, is quite iridescent in nature. Beginning with oboe (6’40), the Philharmonia Orchestra tugs forth with sensitive delivery in a brilliantly nuanced echoing effect. The dynamics at this juncture are mild by volume, and, thus, permit such meaningful extraction.

Perhaps by looking at Il Sodoma’s famous Martyrdom of Saint Sébastien answers the question of how Claude Debussy’s music permeates our soul in uncanny ways. Pulsation is a key ingredient on this CD, and the four-movement Fragments symphoniques truly has a gravity drawn from the mysterious equations found inside Pelléas et Mélisande (1902.) Pablo Heras-Casado’s ambitions take form like a million shimming super nova stars, thrumming amongst a distant galaxy inside the “Danse extatique”...remarkably breathtaking. The Granada native never over-exerts, and he sparingly utilizes crescendos in ways that make his message fulfilling without being overly cloying.

Stopping to contemplate Hokusai Katsushika’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa while listening to La Mer will dazzle the mind. If at first blush the Japanese artist’s woodblock print appears rudimentarily “innocent”, Pablo Heras-Casado varnishes the extraction with quixotic and flourishing turbulence: cornets pierce the irritable winds thereby creating an earthly fury while timpani unsettles the water in a well-grounded bass tempestuousness…very convincing and testy.

How and when Claude Debussy’s music is to be massaged is left in the good hands of Pablo Heras-Casado and his highly individualized vocabulary.

Christie Grimstad




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