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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Claude Debussy - La Mer; Le Martyre de saint Sébastien (Pablo Heras-Casado)


Composer: Claude Debussy
  • (01) Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
  • (02) Le Martyre de saint Sébastien
  • (06) La Mer

Philharmonia Orchestra
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor

Date: 2018
Label: Harmonia Mundi!/albums/2412



Yet another La mer rich in detail (there have been quite a few of late), the ppp timps at the beginning ideally clear, the pp basses too, as are the pizzicatos from 2'18" into the same ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’. Cellos throughout have great warmth of tone and high percussion blends well within the overall texture. In ‘Jeux de vagues’, how nice to hear the cymbal quietly hissing away behind the harps (5'30") and in ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’ there’s the clarity – and impact – of the bass drum. You hear everything, which is half the problem: for the duration of Pablo Heras-Casado’s brilliant performance (the playing itself is marvellous) I kept thinking to myself, ‘great that I’m hearing so much – but should I be aware of all this detail simultaneously?’ I felt as if set upon by each incoming wave, so much to take in and yet so little sense of perspective or atmosphere. But impressive it most certainly is.

Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune enjoys a degree of tonal bloom that suits its very personal narrative. Heras-Casado spins a believable sense of fantasy, as if a loved one is being viewed – maybe even reinvented – through a syphon of memory. Best of all are the Le martyre de Saint Sébastien fragments, where Heras-Casado focuses the music’s haunted, introverted spirit. The final climax in ‘Danse extatique’ (the second fragment) recalls the sun-drenched eruption at the apex of Daphnis et Chloé’s ‘Daybreak’ and there are more Daphnis premonitions (from earlier in the ballet) in the mysterious shimmering of the fourth fragment, ‘Le Bon Pasteur’. Early Bartók and late Wagner are also somewhere in the frame. Heras-Casado makes you realise just what a great score this is, and – as with the other pieces on the disc – the Philharmonia are in fine fettle. Wonderful sound, too. In closing I’d say that if La mer’s textural (and textual) explicitness sounds as if it might appeal, then you certainly won’t be disappointed by its excellent programme companions.

-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone

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Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though he disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His innovative harmonies and his use of non-traditional scales were influential to almost every major composer of the 20th century and also some modern music groups. Debussy's music is noted for its sensory content and frequent usage of nontraditional tonalities.


Pablo Heras-Casado (born 21 November 1977) is a Spanish conductor. He studied music at the conservatory in Granada and studied conducting further at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. His teachers included Harry Christophers and Christopher Hogwood. Heras-Casado's honours included winning the Lucerne Festival Conductors' Competition in 2007. He was principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke's (2011-17), and since 2014, has been principal guest conductor of the Teatro Real in Madrid. Heras-Casado has made recordings for harmonia mundi, Decca and Deutsche Grammophon.


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  2. This version of "La Mer" made me feel, or remember, the excitement of hearing this masterpiece for the first time (in a recording by Pierre Monteux conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra). The reading strikes a perfect balance between nuance and dynamism. Magnificent! I feel young, as if my whole life is in front of me--and it will be one of perpetual discovery. Thank you for this deep draught from a fountain of youth!