Robin Ticciati & DSO Berlin - Debussy: Nocturnes – Duruflé: Requiem - MusicWeb International [JQ]

This is an unusual programme and I’m not going to start trying to fashion links between the two composers or the works in question.

I’ve admired Robin Ticciati’s Berlioz recordings for Linn but I missed his earlier Debussy recording for them, though I see it was well regarded by colleagues (review). There’s much to appreciate in his account of the three Nocturnes, though some may be disconcerted, as I was, by his quite leisurely tempo for ‘Nuages’. His approach is measured and in my experience other conductors, such as Stéphane Denève, have moved the music on with greater fluency and, thereby, more convincingly. Having said that, Ticciati’s performance has a lot going for it. Right from the opening bars my ear was seduced by the lovely airy sound of the woodwinds and throughout the movement the playing of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin is subtle with expert internal balances. The quiet ending is marvellously controlled. Overall, though, I was left with the impression that the music was being presented in a way that was slightly too studied.

No such reservations about ‘Fêtes’. In his notes, Stephen Walsh speaks of “a sort of many-layered festivity, multiple comings-and-goings, a mass of flickering lights and silhouetted bodies”. That’s just the sort of aural image that Ticciati’s colourful and bustling performance conjures up. The distant trumpets (2:55) are very distant indeed but when the procession has wound its way toward the listener the sound is suitably garish and festive. In ‘Sirènes’ the sound of the female voices is alluring while the orchestral textures are beautifully judged. Despite my reservation over ‘Nuages’, which others may not share, this is a performance of the Nocturnes that is distinguished by fine playing and engineering.

Duruflé’s Requiem exists in three versions: the original 1947 score which uses an accompaniment of full orchestra and organ; the 1948 version for organ only; and a later version in which a smaller orchestra is used. My personal preference is to hear the score in one of its two later, more intimate guises, but here Robin Ticciati offers the 1947 original score which, incidentally, was the version favoured by the composer himself for his own recording of the work.

In the opening Introit I wondered briefly if the choir was a bit backwardly recorded but it soon became apparent that the singers were displaying excellent dynamic contrasts. That’s greatly to be applauded but there were one or two other instances, such as in parts of the Agnus Dei, where I thought that the orchestra was just a little too much in the foreground. It’s worth saying that the Rundfunkchor Berlin numbers some 60 professional singers. Unsurprisingly, they give a fine account of themselves.

Reverting to the Introit, the music is intelligently paced by Ticciati and Duruflé’s orchestration glows. In the third movement, ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ the performance of the ‘Libera me‘ section is exciting and a little later on I love the seraphic sound of the sopranos at ‘Sed signifer Michael’. This movement contains a passage, ‘Hostias et preces, Domine’, which one often hears sung by a baritone soloist. However, a note in the score makes clear the composer’s wish that ‘il est préferable’ that unison baritones should deliver this short episode. That’s observed here, to excellent effect, and the same thing happens with the comparable passage in the penultimate movement.

We do have a soloist, however, in the ‘Pie Jesu’ and there’s luxury casting in the shape of Magdalena Kožená. This is at least her third collaboration on disc with Ticciati. She was his soloist on the aforementioned Debussy disc and she also sang some Duparc mélodies for him on a subsequent CD (review). She judges this present assignment to perfection, singing with lustrous tone. Though she is impassioned when it’s appropriate, for the most part her singing is gently dignified. I was delighted also by the eloquent and mellow solo cello line as played by Valentin Radutiu. Equally pleasing are the gorgeous woodwind lines in the ‘Lux aeterna’ movement.

Finally, the gently luminous orchestral sound at the opening of ‘In Paradisum’ simply ravishes the ear and the sopranos sing ethereally. This sublime movement is memorably performed here, bringing an excellent account of Duruflé’s serene Requiem to a peaceful conclusion.

I enjoyed this disc very much. The performance standard is extremely high and Robin Ticciati is in evident sympathy with both scores. The recordings, engineered by Tonmeister Florian B Schmidt, are very good indeed. Stephen Walsh contributes a valuable booklet essay. If the coupling appeals then this is an attractive proposition.

MusicWeb International
08 November 2019