It wouldn't be hard to mistake the Prelude to Gabriel Fauré's opera Pénélope for a small chunk of Parsifal that got away. Though Fauré was never an ardent Wagnerian, its inward yet questing idiom seems to have returned with him to Paris from Bayreuth. Yet his earlier incidental music for Pelléas et Mélisande also possesses an ineffable mystery quite characteristic of his own work.
Robin Ticciati who becomes music director of the DSO Berlin this autumn, pairs Fauré with Debussy: the Ariettes Oubliées which include some valuable early verlaine settings, and La mer, the masterpiece written around the time Debussy eloped with Emma Bardac, Fauré's former lover. The Debussy songs have been orchestrated by Brett Dean, whose technicolour sonic imagination brings these elusive settings into vivid focus. Magdalena Kožená's voice is far from conventional in Debussy, and one might sometimes wish for more defined French diction, but her tone has a glowing inner radiance and access to a seamingly limitless wealth of colours. The result is beguiling interpretations, performed with controlled intensity.
Ticciati draws from his new orchestra playing of yearning Romanticism that almost bursts at the seams. While La mer is beautifully shaped and builds to a suitably elemental climax in the 'Dialogue du vent et de la mer', the Fauré is also unusually full-blooded in expressive terms and firmly marked rhythmically, casting the compoer's alleged 'pudeur' in a rich, rather different light.
The orchestral sound does not entirely match the opulence of the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle, but if Ticciati is aiming for a similar quality, there could be worse role models.