With his Nocturnes, Debussy’s vision of music inspired by Nature enters a new sphere. His first multi-part orchestral work – the composition was originally conceived for violin but was published as a vocal-symphonic work – offers a wealth of subtleties as regards melody and sound colouring, the likes of which had never been heard before in Debussy’s oeuvre. Unlike traditional orchestral writing, the woodwinds here provide motivic vitality with a wide spectrum of tonal colouring while the strings unroll a dynamically finely graded carpet of sound. Absolutely innovative is the wordless female chorus in the third movement whose voices combine with the instruments to produce a mysterious tonal concoction.
Debussy’s compatriot, Ravel, went to even greater lengths in his “Daphnis and Chloé” Suites. As the instrumental distribution leads one to suspect – full orchestra plus 15 percussion instruments, chorus and wind machine –, the work is a fully-fledged modern-age French choreographic symphony and one of the greatest compositions of its time. It is almost superfluous to mention that a thrilling performance of both works can only be achieved by the very best of symphony orchestras.