CLAUDE DEBUSSY: “Orchestral Works Vol. II” = Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Images; La Boite a joujoux (The Toy Box) – Paris Nat. Opera Orch./Manual Rosenthal; Orch. de la Suisse Romande/ Ernest Ansermet (La Boite) – Praga Digitals Reminiscences stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350 093, 75:05 (8/13/13) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Recorded in stereo in Paris in 1957 and 1959, these recordings are a fine addition to the Reminiscences series of historical mono and stereo performances which the label has been releasing on SACD. The opener is the famous Debussy Prelude which so delightfully evokes the proper impression of the mythical mood. The complete Images is up against the three-channel Living Stereo version by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony on an RCA/BMG SACD. While that’s a fairly ferocious performance, the sonics of the early stereo on Rosenthal’s recording has more detail and clarity, though less bite. It’s interesting that the Living Stereo recording of the middle Iberia portion by the Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner omits the opening Gigues and the closing Rondes de Printemps.
Debussy hadn’t even visited Spain yet when he composed the Iberia evocation of Spanish culture, and he seems to have had no problems with quickly writing the work. Yet the critics were amazed by its authentic sound. Writing the opening Gigues proved the mostly difficult for the composer. It was designed as an impressionistic visit to England, as Iberia was to Spain.
The Toy Box was originally composed for the piano by Debussy in 1913. The composer was particularly fascinated by toys and dolls, and created the orchestral version for a ballet performance in 1919. In the scenario for the lavish ballet, the brave soldier doll and the wicked Polchinelle vie for the favors of Dolly.
Although it is nice to have the center channel (missing here) on the Boston Symphony SACD, the Praga early stereo translated successfully onto a fine pseudo-surround using my preamp’s ProLogic IIz with height channels.