Although placed second, Debussy’s Faun makes for an ideal listening Prelude (and not just during the Afternoon) – sultry, fluid and ravishing from François-Xavier Roth, featuring numerous stellar LSO solos, not least a bewitching flute aperitif from Gareth Davies, and glorious strings. If you’re quick enough with finger-on-button to get back to track one, this inwardly blossoming Faun makes an ideal companion to the night-time evocation that opens Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole – here atmospheric and shadowy yet voluptuous (darkly) – and the siestas and fiestas that follow are no-less fine in their sensitivity, colour and verve.
In terms of London, and my own particular concert experiences, the LSO has rather monopolised memorable performances of La mer – those led by Boulez, Celibidache, Colin Davis, Haitink and Pappano come easily to mind. This from Roth can be considered in the same league – an incident-packed and detail-studded account (antiphonal violins affording diaphanous dialoguing during ‘Play of the Waves’) that is as beguiling as it is dramatic, as glinting as it is powerful – the sea in all its moods and hues, the LSO and Roth en rapport and fully focussed.
For the record Roth eschews the ad lib brass fanfares in La mer’s final movement and the recorded sound (from the Barbican Hall January & March 2018 and April 2019) is superb in its clarity and presence. LSO0821 [SACD].