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Debussy Préludes for Piano, orchestrated by Colin Matthews CD

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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  • Performer: Sir Mark Elder
  • Orchestra: Hallé Orchestra
  • Conductor: Sir Mark Elder
  • Composer: Claude Debussy, Colin Matthews
  • Audio CD (1 July 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Hallé
  • ASIN: B003UFMK46
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 129,451 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Product Description

Hallé - Sir Mark Elder, direction

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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Very nice 'takes' on the wonderful piano pieces, but the recording level is low.

I take issue with the following comment by Dace Gisclard: "Unfortunately, there are a few misfires, i.e., "La fille aux cheveux de lin". Says Matthews: "What to do with such familiar music? I made several failed attempts at it, before deciding to slow it to HALF SPEED (caps mine) and score it for strings and harps. This gives it a weight which is admittedly at odds with the simplicity of the original...". Yes, and not only that, but the simple melodic line is fragmented and refracted as in a polarizing lens, each note sustained by a different set of divisi violins. If this is an attempt to simulate the effect of the sustaining pedal, it's a judgement call where I would have preferred that the effect be ignored and the melody transcribed simply. It's an interesting experiment, but is it Debussy? Frankly, I'd rather hear Gleichmann's straightforward "melody with accompaniment" version. My wife, who used to work as an orchestral player, dubbed Matthews' version "elevator music."

I think Matthew's approach to this prelude is ingenious. The effect, for me, is particularly beautiful - especially in the 'chamber' sections (solo strings etc.). Put bluntly - it works as far as I'm concerned.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I really enjoy the piano music of Debussy for its distinctive qualities, although I am not really an afficionado of piano music. I was thus interested to discover how Colin Matthews would approach orchestrating his music. In general, I think he has succeeded admirably and, as ever, the Halle under the direction of Sir Mark Elder provide excellent interpreters. The recorded sound is also very good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Debussy's Piano Preludes Imaginatively Transformed for Orchestra 18 Jan. 2011
By Dace Gisclard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
For me, the success of a transcription of a piece of music from one medium into another depends upon the answers to two interdependent questions: 1.--"would I rather be listening to the original?" (or, perhaps, in cases where several transcriptions exist, would I rather be listening to a DIFFERENT one?); 2.--(and much more subjectively) how faithfully does the transcription adhere to the spirit (as differentiated from the exact notes) of the original? In the case of the present CD's, my answer to question 1 is "Mostly, No!" (which, of course, is NOT to say I don't want to hear Debussy's piano originals ever again); and to question 2, "Mostly, reasonably faithfully." (Mind you, Matthews classifies these orchestrations as "arrangements"--i.e., they are NOT "paraphrases" or "free fantasias" such as Horowitz's "Carmen Variations", Sorabji's take-offs on the "Minute Waltz," or Godowsky's "symphonic metamorphoses"--that's a totally different genre.)

Like any skilled transcriber, Colin Matthews realizes that mere literal transference of the notes of the original work to the new medium will be ineffective, and actually a disservice to the original. (I feel I can speak with insight about this, having just completed a similar task--going in the opposite direction--i.e., writing a new piano/vocal reduction of Ravel's orchestral song-cycle, "Sheherazade", published last summer by Classical Vocal Reprints.) A great deal of imagination and discretion goes into the process. By the very nature of the work, the transcriber is forced to tread the treacherous territory between literalism and licence.

Perhaps the most important issue facing an orchestrator of piano music is taking into account the effect of the sustaining pedal. Throughout these preludes, Debussy shrewdly takes advantage of the pedal in order to allow certain sounds to be sustained whilst the fingers subsequently fly away to get busy elsewhere. Insightful orchestrators approximate the effect of the pedal in many ways. Matthews employs a full and imaginative palette of such devices.

Indeed, by far the greater portion of the present transcriptions are brilliantly successful in conveying the impression of the originals. Matthews' selection of the right instruments to develop the latent orchestral colors in Debussy's piano writing is often uncanny. He is also highly inventive in finding discreet and stylistically convincing additions to fill out textures in which the original consists basically of rapid single notes sustained by the pedal. Particularly successful (among many) are "Brouillards," (where string unisons generate a sinister atmosphere of "Jack the Ripper" gooseflesh) "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest" and "Les collines d'Anacapri". Especially surprising are the successes Matthews makes of "Les tierces alternees", "Les fees sont d'exquises danseuses" and "Feux d'artifice" (the added trumpet flourishes at 0:43 are highly effective). I would have thought these preludes to be just too physically pianistic in inspiration to ever be effective in the orchestra.

Where other orchestrations exist, Matthews sometimes holds his own, sometimes not. "La puerta del Vino" compares well against Busser's. "La cathedrale engloutie" also holds up very well against Stoky's more familiar version. Stoky relies more on high brasses for the climaxes, whereas Matthews prefers low brass, and adds more tubular chimes. Matthews adds an extra repetition of the motif at 4:02, and the strings murmuring in mid-register under the melody at 6:13 are highly atmospheric.

Unfortunately, there are a few misfires, i.e., "La fille aux cheveux de lin". Says Matthews: "What to do with such familiar music? I made several failed attempts at it, before deciding to slow it to HALF SPEED (caps mine) and score it for strings and harps. This gives it a weight which is admittedly at odds with the simplicity of the original...". Yes, and not only that, but the simple melodic line is fragmented and refracted as in a polarizing lens, each note sustained by a different set of divisi violins. If this is an attempt to simulate the effect of the sustaining pedal, it's a judgement call where I would have preferred that the effect be ignored and the melody transcribed simply. It's an interesting experiment, but is it Debussy? Frankly, I'd rather hear Gleichmann's straightforward "melody with accompaniment" version. My wife, who used to work as an orchestral player, dubbed Matthews' version "elevator music." Matthews treats "Bruyeres" in similar fashion--I'd rather hear Grainger's.

The more humorous Preludes come off as rather heavy-handed, but I think this can be laid at the feet of the conductor's sober-sided approach to these particular pieces, rather than the orchestration. The contrasts of dynamics could be bigger in "La serenade interrompue". The frequent changes of tempo in "General Lavine" and "La danse de Puck" could be greater, and both of these pieces and "Minstrels" could be a LOT cheekier.

Also controversial, to varying degrees, are Matthews' (admittedly rare) changes of the bar-to-bar structure of the originals. Some of these are brief and quite within the bounds of what is normally acceptable in orchestral transcriptions, such as the additional bar introducing "Les fees sont d'exquises danseuses", or the slight rewriting of the end of "La danse de Puck". The heavily rewritten and extended bar structure toward the end of "Le vent dans de plaine" (starting at about 1:53) is more debatable. This interpolation adds over a minute to the original. Matthews bases it on Debussy's material, but is it really necessary? At least, all of these departures are honestly pointed out in the booklet notes.

Matthews rounds off the album with his own composition, "Monsieur Croche," a Debussy pastiche loaded with whole-tone scales. (Debussy used to write vitriolic music reviews under the pseudonym, "Monsieur Croche, Dilettante Hater".) It ends with a sort of "scream" which may be intended to depict Croche's impatience with dilettantes.

On the CD's, Matthews has substituted his own order for Debussy's. For those interested in the programming task, the original order is: Book I--2/1; 2/5; 1/11; 1/5; 2/10; 2/3; 1/2; 1/12; 2/2; 2/12; 1/10; 1/3; Book II--1/1; 1/8; 1/6; 2/4; 2/8; 1/7; 2/7; 2/9; 2/6; 1/4; 1/9; 2/11.

These recordings were previously released on two separate CD's, coupled with "Jeux" and "La Mer". The present package jettisons the couplings, and offers the preludes alone as a money-saving "twofer the price of one" set. Despite my caveats, this is a very entertaining and enjoyable set, and the cheaper way to get just the orchestrations of the Preludes. It's anyone's guess how Debussy himself would have orchestrated these works, but in general, Matthews synthesizes the composer's orchestral style convincingly. Still, these CD's are best listened to with the piano score in hand, so one can see just exactly what liberties the transcriber has taken!

P.S. As a point of interest, Matthews is not the first to attempt an orchestration of the complete preludes. Dutch composer/pianist Hans Henkemans beat him to it. Some of these are available on a private CD (haven't heard this). Hans Zender seems to be having a go at the preludes too, with, as far as I've been able to ascertain, five orchestrations of the preludes listed in the Breitkopf and Hartel catalog.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mixed bag 15 Oct. 2012
By CD Maniac - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The orchestrations of preludes by Debussy by Colin Matthews are his attempt to orchestrate the entire two-dozen set. He is the third person to orchestrate all of them (among countless many others who have orchestrated individual movements). Hans Henkemans came first and more recently there has been Brewaeys and now Breiner (and maybe more?). Although there are a couple of gems in his set, I'd have to say overall Matthews is only moderately successful.

Matthews seems intent on trying to imitate the piano sustain pedal, and orchestrates in many held notes that blur the music. This certainly can't be what Debussy intended. And the simplest of all the preludes "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair" is totally ruined with a disasterously slow tempo that tries to make the piece into something that it is not.

However, he does an admirable job on a couple of the preludes; "Canope" is given a remakably simply treatment, which it deserves, and makes a beautiful impact. "Vent dans la plaine" is exceptionally well-scored. Matthews decides to add an extra return of parts of the music, which Debussy did not write. I believe his job was just to orchestrate the music, not re-write Debussy.

The most beautiful is "Les Sons Et Les Parfums Tournent Dans L'air Du Soir" which Matthews changes the key on to great effect.

All of the Debussy orchestrators get some of the movements right, and others wrong. It's worth checking them all out to find the best of the best. One could only hope for some orchestra to find the best orchestration of each movement and record that as a set: Stokowski's "Engulfed Cathedral"; Matthews "Canope", Zender's "Puck's Dance", Brewaeys "Fireworks", etc. One can only hope.
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