Märkl’s Debussy series on the Naxos label, of which this is Volume 7, has enjoyed a consistent run of hits with very few misses. His Debussy is robust, an approach emphasised by the Naxos engineers’ close recording balance. This disc brings together the composer’s four concertante pieces with excellent soloists, at least two of whom have international reputations.
Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is familiar to Australian audiences for his fluent and crisp renditions of French music, particularly Saint-Saëns and Ravel. He proves as stylish as ever in Debussy’s early Fantaisie, composed in 1889-90 (though the composer tinkered with it later on). The work is less a piano concerto than a “Nights in the Gardens of France”. Thibaudet and Märkl find a touching, inward quality in the slow movement, marked Lento e molto espressivo, and plenty of light-fingered brio in the finale. Their sensitivity is compromised to some extent by the recording balance; the piano sounds gigantic. The equally sensitive Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on Chandos is more realistically recorded.
The remainder of the program is even better. Meyer’s mellow clarinet and Doisy’s liquid saxophone bring out the light and shade in their short rhapsodies. This is the most mysterious performance of the Saxophone Rhapsody I know, and under Märkl’s alert direction the fine Lyon orchestra is with their soloist all the way. The Danses sacrées et profanes provide a magical encore, in spite of a passing resemblance to the opening of Bali Ha’i in the Danse sacrée. (Hardly Debussy’s fault.)