Le Tombeau De Claude Debussy / Tomer Lev, Buchmann-Mehta Symphony Orchestra

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Le Tombeau de Debussy: a fascinating compilation of works composed in 1920 by Bartók, Dukas, Falla, Goossens, Malipiero, Roussel, Satie and Schmitt as a tribute to Debussy who had died 2 years earlier, together with Ravel’s Duo for Violin and Cello and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, each a memorial to Debussy in its own right.


The sound quality is ideal. It allows listeners to appreciate the subtle sonorities of each piece...[this is] an often beautiful and always interesting piece of musical archaeology.

This remarkable disc not only presents Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy but includes three spin-offs from that project...Debussy died on 25 March 1918. Two years later, Henry Prunières (1886-1942), the director of the French journal La Revue Musicale, commissioned a joint memorial volume for the composer. He approached the great and good of European music, and asked for a specially written contribution. Ten composers responded with short works that balanced a celebration of Debussy’s musical achievement with each contributor’s individual style. A glance at the track listings shows a wide range of age and aesthetic. Paul Dukas, 55 years old, was the senior contributor, whilst the Englishman Eugene Goossens, at 27, was the youngest. Most of them had made their names before the Great War; some were just about to become successful.

[Dukas'] La Plainte, au loin, du Faune (Lament from afar, of the faun) evokes Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The music is dense and numinous, with some foretelling of his pupil Olivier Messiaen’s “harmonic complexities”. Here, the Faun truly does lament his creator, Debussy.

Manuel de Falla’s elegiac Homenaje was written for guitar. A lugubrious piece, it uses the habanera rhythm, and includes nods towards Debussy’s Iberia. It is a masterclass in subtle chords, scale, arpeggios and dynamics for this instrument. The composer subsequently made versions for piano solo and orchestra.

The longest work in Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy is Florent Schmitt’s À la mémoire de Claude Debussy: Et Pan, au fond des blés lunaires, s’accouda. The latter part of the title translates as “Pan leaned on his elbows deep in the Lunar wheat fields”. There is stylistic variety here; Romanticism, post-Wagnerism and Impressionism contribute to this memorable piece.

Gian Francesco Malipiero left Italy in 1913 to work in Paris. He was fascinated by Debussy’s music. His Hommage à Claude Debussy: Lento echoes the dead composer’s La Cathédrale engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral) with its archaic Gregorian chant “giving the impression of sovereign majesty and greatness”.

This is followed by the most modern-sounding piece in the collection. The Fragment from Symphonies of Wind Instruments is less than a 1½ minute long. This is a piano reduction of that work’s final choral. Naxos have included a complete recording of the orchestral version (23 woodwinds) [which] was derided at its premiere in London on 10 June 1921. We have learned a lot since then!

The only Englishman represented in the project was Eugene Goossens. His Hommage à Debussy, Op. 28 combines two sections: a dissonant Bergian prelude followed by a short impressionistic postlude. It is one of the loveliest pieces on this CD. Béla Bartók’s Sostenuto, rubato features a unison melody supported by shimmering chords which balances impressionism with an indigenous cradle song.

One of the recurring features of Claude Debussy’s music are references to Greek mythology. Albert Roussel’s L’accueil des muses (The Muses’ Welcome) is designed as a musical ascent of Mount Parnassus, the seat of Euterpe and her fellow goddesses. Much of this piece reflects grief, but towards the close there is a definite sense of optimism.

Compared to so much of his music, [Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello] is an acerbic piece that reflects his reaction to the First World War. The first movement was included in the memorial volume. The others were added in 1922. The liner notes explain: “the ultra-transparent writing for two melodic instruments corresponds with Debussy’s last works, and especially his late sonatas for violin and cello, where he gave up his trademark impressionistic multicoloured spectrum in favour of concentrated neo-Classical clarity.” The entire work is given a splendid performance here.

The pianist Tomer Lev was the driving force behind this realisation of Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy. He has provided exceptionally detailed liner notes: not only context but brief overviews of the composers, and an informed discussion about each piece. The usual biographies of the performers are included. The text is presented in English and French. Finally, it should be noted that Tomer Lev has rearranged the order of the pieces to that of the original score. In an essay for The Gramophone (December 2020), he wrote: “Le Tombeau is, to all practical purposes, well-nigh unperformable. Having not been given any precise criteria to write to, the composers had let their imaginations run free, and composed for a dizzying variety of instrumentations.” What has resulted from Lev’s realisation is an often beautiful and always interesting piece of musical archaeology. For me, the obvious diversity becomes a major strength rather than a dilemma.

-- MusicWeb International (John France)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 22, 2021

  • Catalog Number: 8573935

  • UPC: 747313393572

  • Label: Naxos

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Albert Roussel, Béla Bartók, Erik Satie, Eugène Goossens, Florent Schmitt, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Igor Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla, Maurice Ravel, Paul Dukas

  • Conductor: Zeev Dorman

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tel Aviv University Buchmann-Mehta Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Janna Gandelman, Ruben Seroussi, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Tomer Lev