Mark Elder / Hallé Orchestra

Debussy: Nocturnes

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The Hallé Orchestra has played Debussy well for a long time, and the group's recent recordings under Sir Mark Elder have attracted critical notice. Those interested would do very well to start with this release, which joins the familiar Nocturnes for orchestra (perhaps a bit less familiar in the 1999 edition by Denis Herlin heard here) with some fascinating lesser-performed works. The latter group includes two unique later works, the highly evocative Les soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon, L. 150 (from a recently discovered piano work orchestrated by Colin Matthews), and the Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire, L. 77. The Marche écossaise was commissioned, and if the idea of Debussy writing a Scottish march sounds odd, well, it's probably odder than it sounds: it sounds for all the world like a folk song setting, except then it doesn't. La Damoiselle elue, L. 62 is a very early piece, written by Debussy in connection with his Prix de Rome award. It's conventional, but the restless spirit that was soon to surface is easy to hear; it features strong, operatic performances by Anna Stéphany and Sophie Bevan. The Première Rapsodie, L. 116, is a difficult clarinet piece written for exams at the Paris Conservatory. As for the Nocturnes themselves, Elder has a precise yet dreamy way with this music, especially in the wordless chorus of Sirènes that rewards multiple hearings.

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