Everyday Rather Live in Classic Eras

Ravel – Debussy, an exemplary recording of Thomas Zehetmair / Orchestre de chambre de Paris

Neither composer would thank us for it, but from the string quartets onwards Debussy and Ravel have been joined at the hip in the public consciousness. Record companies view them as a handy double-act, yet behind their superficial resemblance lie two contrasting sensibilities: Debussy bohemian and free-spirited, his younger colleague fastidious in thought, word and musical deed. Ravel was a serial orchestrator of other composers’ work, and his treatment of the older man’sSarabande and Danse is a thoroughly professional job, if not convincingly idiomatic. But then what precisely was Debussy’s idiom? The moody atmosphere of, say, La Mer is a world away from these carefree dances and the luminous Petite Suite. The only work on the disc that Debussy orchestrated himself is Danses sacrée et profane. The solo harp in these paired movements is played by Emmanuel Ceysson with a virtuoso’s panache. Room should have been found for him to play Ravel’s Introduction & Allegro as well. Instead, the younger composer is represented by a trio of exercises in style – pastiche or homage according to taste. Both the Pavane pour une infante défunte and Le Tombeau de Couperin are loved for their fusion of ancient and modern melodic forms, and both receive luxury treatment from Thomas Zehetmair and his terrific players. The recording is exemplary, with crisply articulated strings ideally balanced against cool, elegant woodwind and restrained brass. In Tzigane, the orchestra’s gradual entry during Zehetmair’s extended violin solo is achieved with crystalline grace.