Mark Elder / Hallé Orchestra

Colin Matthews: The Debussy Preludes

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Musical literalists may not be pleased with Colin Matthews' free orchestral arrangements of the 24 movements of Debussy's two books of Préludes pour le piano; this is certainly not the equivalent of Ravel's faithful orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Fans of impressionist orchestral music and some fans of the piano originals, though, may well experience a thrill, as if a lost Debussy orchestral piece had been rediscovered. Matthews has a consummate, almost uncanny understanding of Debussy's orchestrational style, and the occasional sonorities that betray the work's modern provenance clearly sound like intentional artistic decisions and not miscalculations. Debussy was a composer whose language and orchestration were always evolving, and it requires no stretch whatsoever to imagine that these orchestrations could have been his own. Listeners who know the piano preludes will be fascinated to hear the ways in which Matthews has reimagined them, sometimes even adding material, extending their length, and altering note values to make the music fit the orchestral idiom with complete naturalness. Matthews reorders the preludes, mixing the two books, opening with Brouillards, the first prelude from the second book and ending the set with a gorgeous, grand, radiant version of La cathédrale engloutie. He also adds an original postlude, titled Monsieur Croche (the composer's pen name as a music critic), which he describes as being closer to Debussy's style than he had "intended or expected." The commissioners of the arrangement, Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra, perform it with luminous transparency and idiomatic sensitivity to roots in Impressionism. The sound is clean, clear, and present. Highly recommended.

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