DEBUSSY: La Mer; Jeux; Nuages; Fetes. RESPIGHI: The

Fountains of Rome

Orchestra Stabile Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma / Victor de

Sabata (recorded: 1947-48)

Testament SBT 1108

Best known for the greatest Tosca on disc, Victor de Sabata was also an ambitious composer and a masterful conductor of orchestral repertoire. His La Mer lay languishing in the vaults for near-on 50 years, but Testament's painstaking refurbishment reveals a performance that matches Karajan's for sensual allure and Toscanini's for visceral excitement. And yet De Sabata's is very different to both, with a malleable journey from dawn to noon, a spine-tingling "Play of the Waves" (Debussy's high string writing comes off especially well) and a stormy dialogue between wind and sea. Varying tempi suggest a wide range of weathers and the playing of the Santa Cecilia orchestra is best where string lines soar (which they do often).

The show-case performance is unquestionably Jeux, that trail-blazing bearer of future rhythmic, harmonic and textural trends. De Sabata's surging string lines and artful woodwind traceries are in marked contrast to the more transparent readings of Haitink, Gielen and Zender, but no version I know of is either as stylish or as animated as this. The two Nocturnes are graphically drawn and the Fountains of Rome suggest a cinematic vividness that even HMV's elderly recording cannot defeat. Felix Aprahamian provides some perceptive annotation.

Rob Cowan