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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some unusual fare distinguishes this Debussy disc from the rest.
I have had some concerns about Sir Simon lately. Nothing to do with the BPO, but rather to the way he interprets, or more specifically separates orchestral colours, in order to clarify and elucidate. At what cost to poetry and the transporting effect we all hope for in our listening? Does the Rattle sound draw attention to itself too much?

I have few qualms...
Published on 1 Oct. 2006 by Philoctetes

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stately, not spritely performances.
Make no mistake. This is a Rattle disc. He has The Berlin Philharmonic doing exactly what he would have had the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra doing a decade earlier. Let's start considering the disc with La Mer, the second work on the CD. Which is probably why you are considering this disc.

I love the rich luxuriant sound. I love his sense of structure...
Published on 9 Nov. 2008 by Bernard Davis


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some unusual fare distinguishes this Debussy disc from the rest., 1 Oct. 2006
By 
Philoctetes (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: La Mer (Rattle, BPO) (Audio CD)
I have had some concerns about Sir Simon lately. Nothing to do with the BPO, but rather to the way he interprets, or more specifically separates orchestral colours, in order to clarify and elucidate. At what cost to poetry and the transporting effect we all hope for in our listening? Does the Rattle sound draw attention to itself too much?

I have few qualms however about his forays into Twentieth-century music, since this is his forte. Years of experience conducting Sibelius, Szymanowski and more recently Bruckner, are being drawn upon here for a La Mer of structural integrity, mercurial effervescence, chaste beauty and sheer power. That's probably overstating it, but I would urge you to hear it, especially when no-one could fault the other items on the CD.

La Boite a joujoux is a bit of a rarety, though it's hard to hear why. Again, it got me thinking of Sibelius and his theatre music. Colin Matthews' orchestrations of Debussy's Preludes (3 included here) are imaginative and translucent stuff: perfect encore material. That only leaves Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, which is predictably superb with Pahud the leading flautist.

The less obvious stuff on this disc helps to make it stand out from all the other Debussy discs available, so even if you've already got a La Mer (Karajan or Haitink maybe) you should get this one too. I just wish EMI wouldn't cover their CDs with Rattle's grinning face. He's all over the recent DG Brahms disc, and that's even more unmissable. The Berlin future is bright indeed.

UPDATE (2015): the La Mer is sans add-on brass fanfares. It's a very vivacious performance, especially following the drowsy pleasure of the Prélude. La Boite and the 3 orchestrated Preludes (Matthews, orch.) create a handsoem programme.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stately, not spritely performances., 9 Nov. 2008
This review is from: La Mer (Rattle, BPO) (Audio CD)
Make no mistake. This is a Rattle disc. He has The Berlin Philharmonic doing exactly what he would have had the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra doing a decade earlier. Let's start considering the disc with La Mer, the second work on the CD. Which is probably why you are considering this disc.

I love the rich luxuriant sound. I love his sense of structure. I love his majestic way with the music. And this is the Marmite Test. The reason you may either love this interpretation, or hate it. Rattle gives us a stately La Mer, a British sensibility La Mer, a La Mer Elgar or an Early Vaughan Williams might have produced. Something you will find in other interpretations, something vital to its French heart is missing. A certain playfulness, zest, joie de vivre. You will have to go to other discs to find those. But as I said. I like the version here. I wouldn't have it as the only one in my collection. But I wouldn't be without it. 4 stars

First track on the disc, Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, fares less well. Every phrase is lovingly created, and is as rich and luxuriant as we could wish. But it is simply too slow and too stately. This interpretation might describe the passing of an enchanted ocean liner, but not a faun seducing two nymphs in the woods with his pipe playing, as it is meant to. 3 stars

The Third work here is the Ballet Le Boite a Joujoux - The Toybox. It is delivered in the same vein as the other pieces here. By now - it begins 35 minutes into the disc - I am starting to long for some French lightness - especially in music like this which would sparkle given such treatment. This is a fine and lesser known piece by Debussy that I would now like to hear in a recording more sympathetic to the composer's intentions. 3 stars

I like the final work here. Three Preludes for Piano that have been orchestrated by Colin Matthews. They are fine as performed here. But I can't help wondering how the first two would sound speeded up about 10% with a lighter touch. 4 stars.

I have found giving this disc an overall rating difficult. I appreciate the way Rattle lovingly moulds every phrase. I love the richness of the orchestral colours he inspires from orchestras. The sound quality is faultless. But the stately approach to everything soon starts to sound like heaviness. It works best in La Mer, delivering an impressive alternative reading. In L'Apres midi d'un faune and Le Boite a Joujoux it is like watching a delicate French ballet dancer performing in lead boots. As I said of this La Mer - I wouldn't be without this disc - but I wouldn't have it as the only version of these works in my collection. I am giving this three stars. Three good stars yes, but not higher.

If you decide you want this disc consider spending £1 more (as prices on this site are as of November 2008) to get the Whole EMI Classics 5CD Sir Simon Rattle Debussy and Ravel Box Set, which includes this disc and 4 other CDs in which Sir Simon delivers his trademark interpretations of these two impressionist composers. It is a well presented and documented set. Many of the other pieces fare better in his interpretations than those here.

Oh yes. It would be a mercy never to see Sir Simon Rattle's greying poodle perm again. But what is the record company meant to use as a cover shot?
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful sounds, but should there be more to Debussy?, 17 Aug. 2005
By 
Klingsor Tristan (Suffolk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: La Mer (Rattle, BPO) (Audio CD)
Is Simon Rattle in danger of falling into the Karajan trap? That is to say, is he so enraptured with the glorious sound the instrument at his disposal can make that that sound becomes an end in itself? Karajan himself, of course, made a famous and much-vaunted recording of Debussy's La Mer, though it's not one I would personally put very high in the pecking order. But that recording did make some wonderful sounds. And so, too, does this one.
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair on Sir Simon. This is certainly a disc to wallow in, to relish the sounds the Berlin Philharmonic make. It starts with a L'apres-midi Prelude that is steeped - nay, saturated - in hot summer languor. The flute is perhaps made a little over-prominent in acknowledgement of the fact that a soloist of note has been used for the part, but the sound, the orchestral balance and the texture are all just ravishing. The touch on the antique cymbals at the last appearance of the main section is exquisitely integrated into the overall sound, better than I think I've ever heard before. This is all so lazily, heat-hazily dreamy that you might wonder if the priapic faun could even raise an eyebrow, never mind anything else, but it is certainly wonderful to listen to. And maybe that is enough for the Prelude.
La Mer, however, provides a sterner test. Here again, Sir Simon conjures some wonderful sound, balance and ensemble from his players. To take but one example there is a moment in the Dawn to Midday movement - about 11.45, I'd say, and I know that's not original - just before the build-up to the last great blaze of brass, where the quality and depth of sound from the lower strings is just exquisite. That final blaze of sunlight is glorious,too. And there are many moment earlier in the movement where Rattle manages to produce a magical stillness of light on water without any rhythmic slackness. In the second movement, the waves play with wonderful energy and precision. And so on. But La Mer is not just impressionistic tone-painting. It relies on a strong structure - not symphonic in the classical sense, but nonetheless a taut framework on which these vivid pictures hang. And this, I feel, is what Rattle misses - unusually for him (think of his Mahler, his Sibelius or, of course, his Beethoven). It's not a criticism I would make of his Birmingham Images for example.
La Boite a joujoux fares better - perhaps because it is less well known and there is therefore less to prove. Even the sound here seems crisper and fresher. And each of these delightful pieces from the end of Debussy's life comes up sparkling fresh. The Matthews arrangements of the three piano Preludes are nice enough, but I don't really see the point. They are so essentially pianistic, why muck about with them?
A mixed review, then, but I should reiterate the amount of pleasure there is to be gained from the orchestral playing on this disc.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rattle and the Berliners make Debussy enigmatic, full of color, 31 Aug. 2011
By 
Andrew R. Barnard (Leola, Pa United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: La Mer (Rattle, BPO) (Audio CD)
Claude Debussy is one of those composers whose music seems to evoke a world of reveries, where sophistication and charm are inextricably mixed. As the world's leading impressionist, you always expect colorful drama from him, with that ever-present sense of the ethereal. In this disc, Sir Simon Rattle gives us an inspiring performance that brings all these wonderful qualities out in an astounding way. Although the Berliners are always ravishing, they seem especially inspired here; I don't know if I've ever heard another disc where the sheer glory of the orchestral sound was this good. For me, that's enough to make this disc worth having. But as if though that's not enough, Rattle has made extremely convincing music at the podium, pulling out amazing details from his orchestra and letting them show off their wonderful mightiness and passion. I don't hear any of the fussiness some reviewers have complained about--Rattle says a lot, to be sure, but he doesn't keep the music from coming unburdened to the surface.

This disc starts out with the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which stars the Berliners' own Emmanuel Pahud on the flute. Needless to say, Pahud is simply stunning on the flute. But the rest of the Berliners are almost equally stunning. Rattle makes this piece incredibly beautiful, with his other first desk soloists shining with their virtuosic powers. Everything is done so perfectly that it is almost unreal; yet our musicians unleash a tremendous amount of love and affection--it's not cerebral.

The La Mer that follows fares even better. Comparing this account to Boulez's account with the Cleveland Orchestra on DG, I was quite surprised by how much better Rattle was than Boulez, who is easily the greatest French conductor alive. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Rattle is far more impressionistic than the famed Frenchman. Rattle seems to have captured the essence of the ocean; it's as if though you can feel the foamy water gently splashing over your sand-covered feet. But, of course, there's much more to the ocean than beauty--you want the mighty power of the splashing waves. Rattle gives that too. I remember the first time I listened to his reading of the ending of the last movement. It was so thrilling that I had to try very hard not to shout at the top of my lungs, so wonderful it was. Rattle contrasts the two extremes of the ocean (and everything in between) in a way that will leave you breathless.

La Boîte à Joujoux is given a reading that conjures images of a playful toy. Some will criticize Rattle for not getting on the floor and playing with the toy, as it were. In other words, this is not a performance that will come across as being childish in nature, as it certainly could be in a good way. Rattle's "toy" is given the benefit of the doubt, as Rattle makes it sound as confident and sure of itself as it could be. Yet the immaturity of the toy is impossible to hide, and the failure of the toy to prove itself is delivered with very decided wit from Rattle. It's really a piece of sarcastic fun as Rattle sees it. The Berliners play with absolute finesse and clarity of tone that can only add to the enjoyment of the work.

Other reviewers have questioned the point of Colin Matthew's arrangements of selections from Debussy's Preludes. That's fair. The arrangements are somewhat problematic; they end up sounding just as much like Matthew's own Pluto as Debussy. It's the 2nd arrangement, Feuilles mortes, which comes across the best, although I still don't know why EMI couldn't have stuck an actual Debussy work on in its place. Nonetheless, while most orchestras would have a nightmare trying to master the technical challenges in these arrangements, with the Berliners and Rattle, it's a job made effortless. I certainly can't say anything bad about the actual performance.

I would strongly recommend this disc to anyone, as it features superb performances of some of Debussy's greatest works. It just goes to prove what a great team Rattle and the Berliners have turned out to be. EMI's sound quality is impeccable, making for another blessing.
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La Mer (Rattle, BPO)
La Mer (Rattle, BPO) by Claude Debussy (Audio CD - 2005)
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