Images for orchestra, L. 122; Images pour piano, Book 2 – Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut; La plus que lente; Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune
Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Hallé CD HLL 7554 59:97 mins
Debussy is surely the ideal composer for the lockdowns and travel restrictions of recent times. His extraordinary ability to evoke the sights, sounds, smells and spirit of other places, such as Spain or the Far East, made him a virtual reality composer a century ahead of his time. Moreover, even without first-hand experience, he had an uncanny ability to capture the essence of a culture, avoiding falling into mere caricature. The three panels of the orchestral Images each inhabit different worlds, testing any orchestra’s range of colour and style. The Hallé, in the latest instalment of their Debussy series with Mark Elder, are certainly up to the challenge. ‘Gigues’ is aptly bittersweet in its lurches between cavorting and melancholy, the three sections of ‘Iberia’ are vibrantly detailed and the opening of ‘Rondes de printemps’ floats and shimmers deliciously.
If there is a hesitation, it is that, both in the Images and Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un faune, the music occasionally becomes a bit earthbound, briefly losing the sense of kinetic energy flowing through Debussy’s music even when apparently in stasis. Nonetheless, the Prélude is suitably languorous, as is ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut’ [itals]. Originally from the second set of piano Images, it is heard here in another wonderfully idiomatic orchestration by Colin Matthews, complete with an unlikely, yet remarkably effective piccolo solo. A befittingly droll account of Debussy’s own orchestration of La plus que lente completes an enjoyable excursion into his musical world.