Monday, June 30, 2008

Rare Debussy

A friend writes:
I've just been listening to the recording of Debussy's Le Martyre de St.-Sébastien by MTT and the London Symphony, with Sylvia McNair and others, and narration by Leslie Caron. It's a hard CD to find--the pared-down orchestral version is easier, though not exactly a warhorse--but it's a gorgeous piece and really ought to be revived, with maximum spectacle as (I gather) the librettist, Gabriele d'Annunzio, had in mind.
Sounds good to me - I'm shallow, so the phrase "maximum spectacle" automatically makes a piece attractive to me. (That's why I have a copy of Granville Bantock's Omar Khhayam at home now.)

Has anyone ever heard Le Martyre live?


Henry Holland said...

I have, years ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and E-PS. I don't think it's top drawer Debussy; in fact, a quick check of his list of compositions suggests that it was the last major piece he wrote, only Jeux came after it.

It would be fun to see a staging, though, a director could really go wild with the nudity and the arrows and stuff.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That sounds made for SF Opera in the Rosenberg days.

Robert F. Jones said...

Glorious recording from 1956 with Charles Munch (conducting AND narrating [!!]) with the BSO:


"gorgeous" says it all.

I think MTT recorded it too.

Anonymous said...

I think that 1956 version must be the one I heard on the Ken Ackerman's "Music Till Dawn" radio program around 1959. It left a strong memory, not of the musical or dramatic details but of beauty and strangeness; eventually that prompted me to seek out the MTT recording, as well as the abridged instrumental version. I hope someone can drop a hint to MTT that a revival would be welcome.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks - I will pick up the '56 Munch.

MFRML said...

I have, years ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and E-PS. I don't think it's top drawer Debussy

I was at those concerts too. Wife and I went to see it along w/ some friends because we liked Salonen's recording of the "Fragments symphoniques" of the work, plus we are Sylvia McNair fans and she was one of the soloists. In the end, Sylvia and everyone else sounded great and the music was pretty enough, but I'd probably not go out of my way to see/hear it again.

Actually, the most memorable part was how they made a big deal about the alleged staging of the performance, when in the end, all that it amounted to was putting Sylvia in a big poofy white dress and making her sing from a ~10 ft high platform behind the orchestra.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, dear!

Thank you for the posting, and welcome, MFRML.