Jun Märkl clearly likes to be comprehensive. His cycle of Debussy orchestral works covers more of the highways and byways than any equivalent survey. His previous seven volumes have been gathered into a nine-disc set, including the arrangements of the Préludes by Colin Matthews. Now, as an addendum, Märkl has added this disc with orchestrations of the Préludes by Peter Breiner. While the original cycle was recorded with the Lyon National Orchestra, this disc features the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, who recently demonstrated their excellent pedigree in Debussy with a set of the principal works conducted by Stéphane Denève on Chandos (reviewed August 2012).
Breiner’s orchestrations are tastefully done, with sympathy for Debussy’s idiom and a fine ear for colour. Whereas Matthews occasionally allows his compositional instincts some latitude, Breiner is much straighter with the original material. There are some striking moments, such as the solo at the opening of ‘Des pas sur la neige’, but some places are more mundane. Debussy once stated that pianists should forget that the instrument has hammers, so it might seem advantageous to have a smooth-textured orchestra. But Debussy pushed so hard against the piano’s percussive nature that removing it can cause the music to fall flat. The result is the wrong kind of fog, making it hard to tell whether it is Märkl or the material that lacks the characterful zip in a piece like ‘Les collines d’Anacapri’.
These orchestrations are enjoyable, but Debussy’s original piano versions offer the listener so much more.