Debussy Orchestrated – Petite Suite (orch. Büsser); La boîte à joujoux (orch. Caplet); Children’s Corner (orch. Caplet)
Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire/Pascal Rophé
BIS BIS-2622 (CD/SACD) 65:07 mins
Some of Debussy’s later output tends to be rather overshadowed by the much-celebrated masterworks of his earlier maturity (especially Nocturnes and La mer). La boîte à joujoux grew from an idea by book illustrator André Hellé for a ‘ballet for children’ – about a box of toys, whose occupants come to life to tell their story of the Soldier’s ultimately successful rivalry with Polichinelle for the hand of the Doll. (One of Hellé’s pictures is on the booklet cover.) Debussy wrote the piano score in 1913 but left most of the orchestration unfinished at his death; this was completed for the 1919 stage premiere by André Caplet, himself a gifted composer, whose earlier arrangement of Children’s Corner Debussy had much liked. The result is a total delight – beautifully wrought and paced, and conveying that poignant child’s-eye view of the world, relating to his adored daughter Chou-Chou, that was one of Debussy’s special insights.
Both La boîte à joujoux and the similarly enchanting Children’s Corner are performed with deft panache by this quality orchestra, whose subtly shaded tone and style sound much more like those of earlier French vintages than the globalised full-colour sonority dominating elsewhere today. There are outstanding individual players, among them the principal oboe, whose haunting contribution to ‘The Little Shepherd’ in Children’s Corner is a special moment.
It’s a small pity (only) that this high-class collective response to Pascal Rophé’s conducting doesn’t quite happen in the Petite Suite, whose naturalness and charm here sound strangely earthbound.