Mikko Franck leads his Paris-based Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a good La mer, rewarding first time through and to return to, flowing and fluid, volatile (second movement), dramatic (third – if without the ad lib fanfares, although one’s inner ear adds them anyway) that may however be thought compromised by a lack of quiet playing, which is partly due to a vivid close-up recording, and ‘loud’ transfer (that responds well to volume tweaking), that may not do justice to the conductor’s play with dynamics, especially when this aspect was such a significant part of a recent Sibelius Five from Berlin. Nevertheless, this anti-impressionistic account (which might have pleased the composer who had no truck with Impressionism, it seems), chiselled rhythms and details in bright relief, does prove compelling as ‘three symphonic sketches’.
As for C’est l’extase – “ten settings of Paul Verlaine for soprano and orchestra (2012), arranged, linked, scored with an epilogue by Robin Holloway” – these are wonderful mélodies on Debussy’s part and have been orchestrated with finesse, fidelity and imagination by Holloway for a close-on half-hour sequence that features the wonderful Vannina Santoni as a word-conscious and seductive soprano, with a gleaming top register, and when she is singing one could belief that Debussy had done the scoring – the sans singer moments find Holloway’s character more to the fore – sensitively accompanied by Franck and his players, Holloway’s contribution freshly distilled. It’s an entrancing cycle, whether sensual or rustic, rounded by an ‘Epilogue’ that is Holloway autographing the whole truer to himself. Alpha 981 includes the sung texts and English translations.