KlassikNet: 101 Best Classical CDs
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101 Best Classical Music CDs:
Twentieth Century in France and Spain

DEBUSSY (1862-1918): La Mer - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune - Nocturnes - Marche Ecossaise - Berceuse Héroïque - Musiques pour Le Roi Lear
Orchestre National de l'ORTF
Jean Martinon, conductor

Throughout his life Claude Debussy struggled against the massive influence of Richard Wagner. One of the complete novelties of Debussy's music was that it rejected the thick textures of German music, turning towards the South and the Mediterranean for inspiration. Available on the EMI budget series "La Voix de son Maître", this album contains Debussy's three orchestral masterpieces: La Mer - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Nocturnes. L'Orchestre National de l'ORTF (today's French National Orchestra) turns in a distinguished performance under the transparent and remarquably committed direction of Jean Martinon.

DEBUSSY (1862-1918): Préludes (Books I+II) - Images I+II - Children's Corner
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano
2 CDs Deutsche Grammophon 449438-2

Several months after the death of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920 - 1995), Deutsche Grammophon reissued on two compact discs what originally had been released on three separate full price CDs. This new edition is thus excellent value for money. Rather than limiting these works to their French idiom, the ingenious Italian pianist glorifies their universal import. Michelangeli was the only pianist to dare to emphasize the occasionally monumental structure of this music. Worse still, to put his finger precisely on what Debussy owed to Wagner. Listen to La Cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral).

RAVEL (1875-1937): Boléro - La Valse - Rhapsodie Espagnole - Pavane pour une infante défunte - Ma Mère l'Oye
London Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Monteux, conductor

A genius at orchestration, Maurice Ravel knew better than anybody how to hit the listener right between the eyes. Listen to the Boléro whose hypnotic rythm brings to mind the sassy creations of Christian Lacroix, or the delirium of La Valse, as provocative as Jean-Paul Gaultier. The legendary French conductor Pierre Monteux's musical direction is as classic as a Dior suit.

RAVEL (1875-1937): Piano Concerto in G major - Piano Concerto for the left hand
Samson François, piano
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
André Cluytens, conductor

The Concerto for the Left Hand is one of the four or five most perfect concertos of the repertoire. Ravel wrote this strange masterpiece for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the trenches of World War I. Samson François and André Cluytens channel with incredible ease the concise energy of the tightly-knit proportions of this concerto. Their interpretation of the more traditional Concerto in G is on the same order.

FALLA (1876-1946): El Amor brujo (L'Amour sorcier) original version, 1915 - Les Tréteaux de Maïtre Pierre
Ginesa Ortega, cantaora
Orquestra de Cambra Teatre Lliure
Josep Pons, conductor
harmonia mundi

Born in Cadix, the son of an Andalusian father and a Catalan mother, Manuel de Falla like his compatriot Isaac Albeniz contributed to the rebirth of Spanish music at the turn of the century. El amor brujo is derived from an old gypsy tale about a couple, Candelas and Carmelo, that the ghost of Candelas' dead lover trys to destroy. The opera's famous Fire Dance draws its inspiration from gypsy flamenco, a musical tradition that fascinated Falla. The Catalan Josep Pons, who conducts the original 1915 version of the score, paints this music in the darkest hues.

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