The latest from MTT and the SF Symphony is an all-Debussy SACD.

* DEBUSSY: Images (complete); Jeux; La plus que lente – San Francisco Sym./ Michael Tilson Thomas – SFS Media multichannel SACD 821936-0069-2, 62:31 (10/28/16) *****:

More superb recordings and performances from one of the best orchestras in the U.S. – the San Francisco Symphony. The mastery of orchestration possessed by the French composer is exquisitely demonstrated in this collection of his impressionist style. French composers nearly always did the best job of portraying Spain in their music, and Debussy’s Images is a great example. Each one of the six parts of Images has its own national coloration. Iberia is the central panel of the Images, and is a sort of love song on a grand scale to the country which so engaged some French composers, including him.

In the Night Fragrances section Debussy caresses us with the scents of oleander and sweet chestnut, wild rose and thyme. The score is marked “Slow and dreamy.”  The last of the six parts, Rondes de printemps, is dedicated to the composer’s new wife, and quotes a French children’s song.  It is actually a fierce little tone poem.

Jeux is one of less-performed works of Debussy. It was originally for a Diaghilev ballet that takes place on a tennis court. It’s a little story of a boy and two girls who play tennis, but is quite complicated orchestrally.

The third Debussy work, the waltz La Plus que lente, was originally intended to be a movement of a continuation of Images, but it first saw life as a piece for solo piano, influenced by Debussy’s discovery of gypsy music from Budapest. The orchestral version even has the sound of the cimbalom, the well-known Hungarian folk instrument. Sentimental slow waltzes were the rage in Paris at the time, so this work fit right in really well.

The first and third works were recorded for SACD at 192K/24-bit, while Jeux was recorded at 96K/24-bit and I couldn’t tell the difference on my high-end AKG headphones. (96K/24 is good enough for all hi-res unless you’re 20 and can afford the best system around, which is unlikely. 192/24 and Double DSD are all a crock, as far as I’m concerned.) Good surround sound too, even though the Davies Symphony Hall in SF is not necessarily the best acoustic environment.

—John Sunier