Debussy: Images • Et La Lune Descend Sur Le Temple Qui Fut • Prelude A L'Apres-midi d'un Faune

The Hallé and Sir Mark Elder follow their recent highly acclaimed Debussy Nocturnes album, with a stunning orchestral collection including a world premiere recording.

The album features a world premiere recording of Colin Matthew’s orchestration of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut, from the 2nd Book of Images for piano.  This arrangement follows Matthews’ universally acclaimed orchestrations of the Debussy Préludes and of Les soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon featured in the recent Nocturnes release.

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Elder’s empathy for Debussy, the Hallé’s fine playing and an excellent recording make this a disc to treasure. RECOMENDED

The playing of this orchestra seems to get better with each succeeding CD, something evident from the very beginning of Images. (Just to clarify – these orchestral Images are a completely separate entity from the two sets of Images for piano. That can cause some confusion, as can the fact that the middle one of these three Images – Ibéria - is itself sub-divided into three separate sections.) The first movement, Gigues, with its curious reference to the English folk-song The Keel Row, is a magical opening to the disc. A flute softly hints at the folk-song, against a typically misty background. Then Debussy brings in a keening melody played by the oboe d’amore. This is essentially a Baroque instrument, much loved by Bach, though this is the only time Debussy used it. Why? Well, pitch-wise, the d’amore is between the oboe and the cor anglais. I wonder if one of the oboists in the orchestra who gave the premiere (the Orchestre Colonne) possessed such an instrument and played it to Debussy? It’s possible, and there’s no question that its plaintive tone is perfect – throatier than the oboe, yet not as rich as the cor anglais. The whole of Gigues is a delight, and it is played superbly here.

Images is followed by three smaller-scale works. Et la lune descend…(difficult to translate, but usually given as ‘And the moon descends over the temple that was’) is one of the Images for piano, and is a strange, gnomic piece showing the influence of Indonesian music. Matthews’ deft instrumentation made me realise how much Debussy meant to a composer such as Gustav Holst, not only in The Planets, but even more clearly in Egdon Heath. Elder and his players perfectly capture the other-worldly character of the shifting, indefinable harmonies.

La plus que lente is a slow and sensuous waltz, with more than a touch of affectionate parody. Though originally for piano, Debussy orchestrated it himself, with the curious inclusion of a cimbalom – that strung folk instrument that makes an occasional appearance in orchestral music, e.g. Kodály’s Háry János. I’d never heard this version of the piece before, and it is great to have it here. The Hallé perform it with great style, capturing the languid rubato to great effect.

And the disc is completed by what is perhaps Debussy’s greatest masterpiece, the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. This exquisite yet epoch-making work benefits from the really wonderful flute playing of Katherine Baker, the orchestra’s principal flautist. Indeed, all the wind playing is of the highest possible standard – the bassoon of Emily Hultmark, the horn playing of Laurence Rogers and his section, and the oboe of Stéphanie Rancourt. I don’t know a better recording of the work, though Claudio Abbado’s with the Berlin Philharmonic on DG, in which Emmanuel Pahud weaves his magic, takes some beating.

Another great disc from Elder and the Hallé. MusicWebInternational

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