I have enjoyed two previous BIS recordings from Pascal Rophe, but those were both in less familiar repertoire than this Debussy collection. His 2015 recording of Dutilleux's ballet, Le Loup, is very fine - even more colorfully illuminating than John Wilson's for Chandos. And his 2019 recording of Roussel's The Spider's Feast is a musical and sonic feast indeed, bringing this relatively rare ballet to new life. It is coupled, though, with a completely routine and utterly "Bb" Sorcerer's Apprentice (Dukas).
It is, then, in more familiar territory where Rophe disappoints. Just as in his earlier Dukas, these Debussy ballets fail to come to life as they should. They're earthbound and steadfastly refuse to dance, predominated by lethargic tempos.
The orchestral playing is very good, as is the recorded sound. The woodwind playing in particular is glowing. However there is an occasional lack of sumptuousness from the strings. I don't believe this is the fault of the BIS engineers. It sounds as if Rophe is going for transparency at all costs. And I'm not sure why he would do that in Debussy.
More serious, though, is a certain blandness which permeates these readings, robbing them of the imagination and wonderment of good storytelling. Characterization of the various sections is curiously minimized, leading to a lack of involvement. Only in the final track, Golliwogg's Cakewalk, does the orchestra suddenly awaken, aided by a subtle (and completely unnecessary) boost of the volume knob from the engineers. The newfound energy comes way too late to compensate for everything which precedes it. All it accomplished was to startle me enough to turn it off and move on to something more interesting.
In sum, I was really looking forward to this release, but alas, it proved to be thoroughly disappointing.
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