Debussy: La mer; Preludes (arr. Matthews)

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Halle
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy
WORKS: La mer; Preludes (arr. Matthews)
PERFORMER: Hallé/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: CD HLL 7513
Recordings of La mer are not in short

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supply, so it is good to be offered a distinctive coupling. In this case it is 12 of Colin Matthews’s orchestrations of Debussy’s Preludes, trumping the three included with the marvellous recent version from Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, reviewed September 2005).

It is brave placing Matthews’s arrangements alongside one of Debussy’s orchestral masterpieces, and it is a measure of his skill that this is not complete folly. Some are evocative of Debussy’s orchestral soundworld, the luminescent opening of ‘Canope’ transporting us into the realm of Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien. Others, such as ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, deliberately, and effectively, transform the entire sense of Debussy’s original. In this case, the tempo is much slower, surely making this a woman rather than a girl with flaxen hair. Nonetheless, there are also miscalculations, with the raindrops after the first squalls of ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest’ sounding more like plaintive sunbeams.

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The Hallé are resplendent underMark Elder, with ravishing colours and finely etched detail, though the otherwise excellent recording places the brass either miles away or in your lap. There is also a recurrent sense of the beauty of the moment masking the bigger picture. It seems the sun will never rise in ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’, while ‘Jeux de vagues’ takes time to find a spring in its step. Rattle keeps a much tauter grasp, while Haitink’s classic account with the Royal Concertgebouw remains unsurpassed. Christopher Dingle