Composer: Claude Debussy
Performer: Fritz Weaver, Felicia Montealegre, Adele Addison, Marlena Kleinman, Virgina Babikian, Joanna Simon, Choral Art Society
Orchestra: New York Philharmonic
Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Sony Classical
Size: 346 MB
01. Prologue: ‘Gentle people, we bid you silence…’
02. First Window – 1. ‘First Window, The court of Lilies’
03. First Window – 2. ‘Glory! Glory to Christ the King’
04. First Window – 3. Ecstatic Dance of Sebastian on the Live Coals
05. Second Window – 1. ‘Second Window, The Magic Chamber… Within a vast ellipti…
06. Second Window – 2. Song of the Virgin Erigone. ‘Je fauchais l’epi de froment’
07. Second Window – 3. ‘And suddenly a new voice sings from beyond the magic door’
08. Thrid Window – 1. Third Window, The Council of False Gods
09. Thrid Window – 2. ‘Suddenly, the Emperor speaks!’
10. Thrid Window – 3. ‘Intone your hymn!’
11. Thrid Window – 4. ‘Caesar, I refuse your lyre…’
12. Thrid Window – 5. ‘Who is this young man so white…’
13. Thrid Window – 6. ‘Sing! Exult!’
14. Thrid Window – 7. ‘He dies, the Archer of Lebanon’
15. Fourth Window – 1. ‘Fourth Window, The Wounded Laurel’
16. Fourth Window – 2. ‘I feel in the palm of my hand the stigmata burn…’
17. Fourth Window – 3. ‘From the depths, Archers, I call upon your love!’
18. Fifth Window – 1. ‘A pearly radiance spreads in the sky… The Fith Window, P…
19. Fifth Window – 2. Chorus of Martyrs. ‘Gloire!’
Much better than some critics would suggest
Bernstein’s recording of Debussy’s work for narrator and/or actors with orchestra has never been one of his most famous recordings; in fact, I never even knew he had made one until it was released on CD as part of the “Bernstein Century” series.
It is the only version of the “Martyrdom” narrated and acted in English, and Bernstein himself did the adaptation. (The sung portions are still done in French, which means Bernstein has wisely not tampered with any of the sung text.) Predictably, the stuffy and oh-so-traditional critics have had harsh words for the narrated and acted portions, some going so far as to call it “unlistenable”, and even “homoerotic”, while others maintain it is simply over the top.
While it IS more flamboyant than most of the other versions I have heard, and while the French version may stick more closely to D’Annunzio’s original text, I still enjoy this version very much, and Bernstein has shown remarkable foresight in presenting his audience with a version of this work that they can easily follow. His wife, actress Felicia Montealegre, enacts the role of St. Sebastien, and while she does sound pretty frenzied much of the time, it does make sense that her portrayal of the martyr should sound as if he were experiencing a wild sense of ecstasy (hence, the accusations of sadomasochism and homoeroticism hurled at this adaptation).
Fritz Weaver is the narrator, and his part has been especially created as a sort of guide to pointing out what we should expect to hear. His narration is restrained, eloquent, and he has plenty of opportunity to display his rich speaking voice.
Bernstein conducts, and the New York Phiharmonic plays, with great sensitivity, and the recorded sound is excellent. You do, however, have to turn up the volume somewhat to hear some of the spoken text (especially Weaver’s narration) clearly. This, however, should not deter you from listening to this excellent, quite unusual, but very accessible version of “The Martrydom of St. Sebastien”. In many ways, this is the most accessible version of all, and it is difficult to understand the critical howls over a performance which makes the work easier to follow without sacrificing any of its integrity.