WORKS: Orchestral works Vol. 6: Suite bergamasque; Petite suite; Printemps; En blanc et noir; Symphony in B minor
PERFORMER: Lyon National Orchestra/Jun Märkl
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.572583
Ravel made a habit of orchestrating his piano music, Debussy less so – leaving the field clear for others. Of the five transcriptions on this disc, only his early cantata Printemps engaged the composer in any way, since we’re told that Henri Büsser orchestrated it under his supervision. We must assume that the curious inclusion of a piano duet had Debussy’s agreement but, insensitively handled, it can stick out from the washes of orchestral sound. Here Jun Märkl treats it as a secondary percussion element and the result is surprisingly effective.
Büsser’s 1907 orchestration of the Petite suite drew thanks from the composer for its ingenuity. The other three transcriptions, dating from after Debussy’s death, are of variable quality. Gustave Cloez’s version of three movements from the Suite bergamasque gets off to a bad start with an opening to the ‘Prélude’ that sounds like a hippo on a trampoline. André Caplet’s ‘Clair de lune’ brings welcome relief, though the initial minor third is not quite together. Not much can be done with the early essay towards a B minor Symphony, and far away the most skilled and imaginative orchestration comes, unsurprisingly, from Robin Holloway in En blanc et noir.
This sounds not merely like Debussy, but like late Debussy, and Holloway’s few additions consistently enhance the spirit of the original. For my taste the sound overall is rather too resonant. The loud ending of Ibéria in volume three of this series (reviewed June 2010) has an echo of three seconds; that of the first movement of En blanc et noir in this volume nearly six seconds. Roger Nichols