Debussy's La Mer - On Period Instruments ?
I recently checked out the website of one of today's leading period instrument orchestras , the sonorously if pretentiously named Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightment of London . According to the blog , the orchestra is about to perform Debussy's hauntingly atmosperic masterpiece La Mer (The Sea) on PERIOD INSTRUMENTS . That's right, a work from th eearly 20th century given the "Historically Informed" treatment .
The orhcestra has givewn accllaimed performances of music by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart ,Beethoven and Schubert on period instruments , and even Wagner , and made recordings under conductors such as the late, great Sir Charles Mackerras and other eminent maestros. . Following the trend of applying the trend of pursuing th euse of period instruments ever further in time , the orchestra is now about to tackle this masterpiece of French musical impressionism .
I would certainly be very curious to hear this performance , but will it truly be "authentic"? And will it be "superior" to the supposedly "inauthentic " performances of such great mainstream orchestras as the London Symphony orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphphony , and the orchestras of France, particualarly Paris ? Who knows ?
Of course, the instruments of Debussy's lifetime (1862- 1918) were much closer to those of the present day than those of the 18th and early 19th century . The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will still be using gut rather than steel strings, as well as brass instruments of a narrower bore than those of today . Recently, in a letter to Musoc.org arguing with me about period instruments, my Bete Noire and intellectual sparring partner Matthew Boyden claimed, rather arrogantly, that modern instruments fail utterly to do justice to the music of Debussy and Ravel .
But how does he know that these great French composers would not have been dazzled by the way the great orchestras of today play their music if they could miraculously come back to life and hear them ? He does not . The "authentic" La Mer might be very insteresting to hear . But I'm not going to throw my recordings of Debussy by Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink , both renowned advocates of such music away if a recording of La Mer by this London period instrument oprchestra comes out . Why should I ? The orchestras on these recordings sound perfectly wonderful to me .