Images: Gigues, Ibéria (Par les rues et pas les chemins, Les parfums de la nuit, Le matin d’un jour de fête), Rondes de Printemps
Et La Lune Descend Sur Le Temple Qui Fut
La Plus Que Lente
Prélude à L’Après-Midi d’un Faune

Katherine Baker Flute
Hallé Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder

Hallé CD HLL 7554
Full price

The Review

This latest in Sir Mark’s recordings of Debussy’s orchestral works is another fine example of his ability to give shape to the music and not be distracted into letting glossy sound take away from these magnificent pieces of mood painting. He allows the music space, nothing is rushed – indeed Ibéria’s streets are full of rather stately citizens, their brass chorales and Arabic timbres pointed out on a good humoured stroll. The perfumed night is languorous and sensuously exotic, the festival morning opens without too much haste then, as if the townspeople suddenly realise what day it is, hurl themselves out of bed, grab a coffee, and prepare for the fun to come.

Rondes de Printemps has plenty of Spring zing but there is time to relish the detail, the delicious discords, the interweaving wind and pizzicato and strumming strings. Somehow the heat of the Iberian peninsular comes through but also the clarity of mountain light and Atlantic coasts, not just Mediterranean beaches.

Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (And the moon descends from the temple that was)
is one of the Images from his piano set that Debussy chose not to orchestrate. That service has been done by Colin Matthews, who has also orchestrated the Preludes and the rest of these Images for Elder. Perhaps a complete set on record is on the way. He has a deft touch, necessary in this gentle music, giving much of the chordal writing to the winds, the melodic material to the strings. On the disc it leads well into another arrangement (this time by Debussy himself) of the 1910 waltz, La plus que lente (The slower than slow), a humorously pompous little piece that is made characterful by the inclusion of the cimbalom. If only Debussy had been young enough to recast it as film music it would have given him a hit.

He had that, of course, with L’après-midi d’un faune (The afternoon of a faune). It was the originator of the poetic story, Stéphane Mallarmé, who realised that Debussy would be the ideal composer to depict it, a combination of eroticism and languid fantasy on a hot afternoon. Mallarmé was thrilled with the result, as listeners will be with Elder’s interpretation. You need a superb understanding between orchestra and conductor to achieve the combination of ease and precision shown here. The Hallé have had Sir Mark with them for twenty years and I doubt whether, even with Barbirolli, they ever played much better than this.