After being so impressed with two previous releases from this source (conductor, orchestra, record label), namely those of the music of Shostakovich and Stravinsky, I found their Debussy surprisingly disappointing. In La Mer and Iberia, competition is fierce. And despite sumptuous SACD sound from the magnificent team at Pentatone, the result here is distinctly "blah". Gimeno goes for an overly sonorous, homogeneous sound above all else. String articulation and pizzicatos are so smooth and buried in the mix, much of it is inaudible. The overall sound palette fatally obscures details and seriously diminishes power, involvement and excitement. This is most detrimental in the final sections of both works, where the adrenaline simply fails to flow and climaxes simply refuse to expand. It's a real pity too, especially in La Mer, which begins most promisingly. I enjoyed the 1st two movements very much. They possess beautifully expressive playing, have good momentum and enough detail to be interesting. But then in the 3rd movement, concentration sags and the orchestra remains steadfastly earthbound and limp.
Even in Iberia, characterization of mood is minimized and the listener instead wallows in dark, rich sound. One is left completely unmoved. It's kind of like eating a meal comprised only of chocolate cake and fudge and no main course. After awhile, even chocolate isn't appealing. And while it's a shame there was room on the disc for only the central Iberia section from Images for Orchestra, rather than the entire piece, it's probably just as well with such low voltage. The present program lasts 78 minutes.
Not that any of us needed yet another Iberia anyway. Thus, the real attraction here are the new orchestrations of Images for Piano (Book One only) and Six Epigraphes antiques. The former was done at the commission of this orchestra by the enormously talented Colin Matthews. The latter by Rudolf Escher (not to be confused with a previous orchestration by Ernst Ansermet). Both are fascinatingly impressive in how very much they sound like Debussy's own orchestral writing. They certainly in way improve upon the piano originals, but they are interesting and completely satisfying. Gimeno's misty textures and slow-moving tempos suit these dreamy works much better than in the more famous orchestral works contained on this program.
In sum, sumptuous sound is the predominate characteristic here. Involvement, excitement and power are in very short supply. (If only Gimeno had brought forth some of the energy from his fabulous Stravinsky and Shostakovich sessions.) But the rare and fascinating orchestrations included here are enticing. Unfortunately, they only account for about 30 minutes of this disc.
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