August 2007

Seascapes - Debussy: La Mer; Zhou Long: The Deep, Deep Sea; Bridge: The Sea; Glazunov: La Mer
Sharon Bezaly, flute; Singapore Symphony Orchestra; Lan Shui, conductor
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The ocean has inspired a lot of music, and there are already a few CD compilations of pieces about the sea, but none is more attractive than this one. It begins with Debussy’s well-known La Mer in a performance that might be the best one I have ever heard. The Singapore Symphony is made up of virtuoso musicians, and conductor Lan Shui is long on nuance. He gets an incredible dynamic range out of the orchestra and adds subtle touches to everything it plays. His La Mer is transparent and radiant, but not lacking in force during the big climaxes in the third movement.

The brief and charming Zhou Long composition for flute, string orchestra, harp, and timpani continues the program in an Impressionist vein. Then Sui and his forces turn to the music of English composer Frank Bridge: The Sea, a romantic suite with four movements written in 1910-11. Shui makes its ebbs and surges quite dramatic and moving. His extrovert, sweeping performance is better than any on CD, including those that are played and led by English musicians.

The voluptuous Glazunov work, with its central, dramatic sea storm, is given a luscious reading that perfectly suits it. The horns and trombones of the Asian orchestra are commanding, even awesome in this work.

The recorded sound for all four pieces is excellent. The soundstage is wide and fairly deep. When the harp is heard, it seems to come from behind the first violins but in front of the percussion, a feat of amazing aural placement. All the delicate sounds featured in these works, including harp, suspended cymbal, bells, and triangle, are clear and have great presence, even though they sound from the back of the orchestra.