If you are easily enchanted by the paintings of the pre-Raphaelites and the literature of the Symbolists, you must dive into the sound world of Claude Debussy’s La damoiselle élue! If you have not already done so, you will find the musical soul mate of those diaphanous, dreamlike and mysterious imaginary spaces. This ‘little Oratorio in a mystical and somewhat pagan note’, as the composer himself described it, radiates magic and evanescent beauty, an atmosphere that permeates the poem by the painter and author Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the source of Debussy’s inspiration.
We are equally drawn in by the other two Debussy masterpieces on the programme, Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien and the Nocturnes for orchestra.
Le martyre is music written for a medieval-inspired stage fantasy by Gabriele D’Annunzio, which was not well received by the public, but whose soundtrack continues to charm today. This music breathes with a sigh, like a living organism in a reverie. Here and there, a few moments of intensity warn that the dream world can be made up of worries, even threats, but in Debussy’s work, the darkness does not linger.
The Nocturnes are more restless than the title suggests, but they remain fantastic examples of Debussy’s orchestral genius.
Mikko Franck masterfully leads the Radio-France Philharmonic Orchestra and the Maîtrise de Radio-France in a sonic odyssey in which details are heightened without ever losing the sumptuousness of the Debussy orchestra. He knows how to create phrases that seem random and spontaneous, of immense naturalness, rhythmically indeterminate, but obviously skillfully controlled. It is living and breathing music-making. The sound recording, limpid and warm, is ideal.