Colin Matthews: The Debussy Preludes / Elder, Halle Orchestra

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Simon Rattle recorded three of these arrangements, drearily, but these performances are far more colorful and appealing. Matthews' orchestrations have many fine qualities, and a few problems. He tends to overuse the harp, which makes a poor substitute for the original piano figuration, particularly in an orchestral context, and he's positively allergic to the upper woodwinds, a most uncharacteristic decision. The result places the timbral emphasis on strings, harp, soft brass (usually in sustained chords), and percussion, and the result is more blurry than the piano originals, a sound that's almost too "impressionistic".

This means that Matthews is best at the most impressionistic pieces: the two "wind" preludes, Ondine, Fireworks, and anything involving moonlight, night, and so forth. He catches the grotesque humor of General Lavine very well, and the crepuscular, haunting sounds of Dead Leaves (the contrabassoon is the one wind instrument he favors). Puck's Dance, though, is anything but puckish, and The Engulfed Cathedral is surprisingly tacky, with too many bells and not enough majesty. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair sounds more like the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth (think: strings and harp).

Despite these occasional reservations, which will necessarily be a matter of personal taste, the scoring (idiomatic or not) is always sensitive, tasteful, and carefully thought out. Matthews includes as an encore a piece of his own: Monsieur Croche, a tribute to Debussy that fits very nicely with the preludes. As already suggested, the performances are bold and colorful, and wonderfully played, complemented by first-rate engineering. You may not agree with all of Matthews' decisions, but then that's part of the fun, isn't it? Strongly recommended.

--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CDHLD7527

  • UPC: 5065001341267

  • Label: Halle

  • Composer: Claude Debussy, Colin Matthews

  • Conductor: Mark Elder

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Hallé Orchestra