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Debussy: Préludes / Callegari, Royal Flemish Po


Release Date: 11/29/2005 
Label:  Talent Records   Catalog #: 4   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Daniele Callegari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews





I must begin with a confession: I?m by nature a purist. I generally don?t care for Bach played on a synthesizer, Wagner sung in English, or Brahms?s G-Major Violin Sonata transposed for the cello. So upon receiving this set for review, I marshaled my ideas about the wrong-headedness of such a project and prepared to move ahead accordingly.


This approach was blown out of the water, though, when I actually listened to these CDs. These orchestrations (or ?recompositions,? in Brewaeys?s somewhat pretentious term) are not merely competent and tasteful; they are remarkably faithful to Read more Debussy?s originals and astonishingly ingenious to boot!


Of course, the idea of orchestrating Debussy keyboard works is anything but new. But the orchestrations of Children?s Corner and the Petite suite by Caplet and Büsser respectively (even though both were members of Debussy?s circle) are much more restricted in color and dynamics than are Debussy?s original works for orchestra. The Préludes, as singularly pianistic as anything he wrote, have inspired only isolated attempts to transform them into orchestral pieces.


Among 20th-century composers who orchestrated piano works (their own and those of others), only two stand out as having the gift for not only preserving both the spirit and the ?letter? of the original, but at the same time producing something that sounds convincingly like an original work for orchestra: Ravel (Debussy?s ?Danse? and ?Sarabande? from Pour le piano , Mussorgsky?s Pictures at an Exhibition ; his own Alborada del gracioso , Le tombeau de Couperin , Valses nobles et sentimentales , and Ma mère l?oye ) and Respighi (his own Vetrate di chiesa , Rachmaninoff?s Cinq études-tableaux , Bach?s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, and the more stylized Rossiniana and Ancient Airs and Dances ).


To these we must now add the name of the 21st-century composer Luc Brewaeys. Born in Belgium in 1959, Brewaeys already has eight symphonies to his credit, in an era when most composers who ever expect to hear their music avoid writing for the orchestra. (Four of these, along with his Requiem , have just been issued on a two-CD set by Cypres; I was not able to get a copy of this set, or to hear any of his other original music, before preparing this review.) The booklet for the present set includes a brief essay by Brewaeys, in which he explains some of his strategies for carrying out this project. On the one hand, he says, ?It wasn?t my intention to orchestrate the works as Debussy would have done himself.? Along with this disclaimer comes the following: ?From very early on I decided not to touch Debussy?s notes. There?s not a single octave in the score, which was not written by Debussy himself. I remain stubbornly faithful to the original text . . .?. This restriction actually exceeds any limits that Ravel or Respighi set for themselves; in their orchestrations it is common to find octave doublings, for example, that are routine in orchestral music but impossible for two hands at a keyboard.


I listened to each prelude, first in Paul Jacobs?s recording of the original piano version, then in Brewaeys?s ?recomposition.? It must be noted that Brewaeys does a superb job of sorting out the inner structures of Debussy?s polyphonic writing, teasing out the lines?especially inner voices?that make the music cohere. There?s no gratuitous use of orchestral ?gimmicks? here, and despite Brewaeys?s protest to the contrary, many passages do sound strikingly like Debussy?s orchestral music; for example, mm. 17?19 of Danseuses de Delphes (I:1) could have come right out of Nuages . And one of the most spectacular moments was one of the softest: as I awaited the beginning of La fille aux cheveux de lin (I:8), I was wondering how Brewaeys would set the opening melody: solo clarinet? oboe? first violins? When in fact the D ? enters in the solo flute, it makes an instantly unmistakable connection with Debussy?s most famous opening: for this is precisely the same note as the celebrated opening C ? of Prélude à l?après-midi dun faune ! Indeed, much of the fun of this experience was in wondering how in the world a given piece or passage could possibly be transformed from quintessential piano-writing to the orchestral setting; Brewaeys?s solutions continually show a combination of imagination and a firm grasp of Debussy?s language.


Other highlights include the stopped horns at the end of Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l?air du soir (I:4); most of Les collines d?Anacapri (I:5), which strongly evokes Ravel, ?General Lavine?eccentric? (II:6), which best displays Brewaeys?s ingenious knack for mixing orchestral colors, and Feux d?artifice (II:12), which is a tour-de-force requiring real virtuosity from the woodwinds.


Ironically, I find least convincing those passages in which Brewaeys?s own restrictions work against him: piano chords widely spaced for the two hands, which often might benefit from fuller orchestration; and, most prominently, Debussy?s frequent practice of writing single notes in the lowest octave of the piano, probably for the sake of clarity. Transferred to orchestra, these are necessarily assigned to contrabassoon, tuba, or basses; but, in orchestral settings, these instruments almost always sound stronger , rather than muddier, when doubled an octave above. For example, in the middle ?chorale? section of La cathédrale engloutie (I:10), the low C needs reinforcing; and, the B ? pedal point that subsists throughout most of Voiles (I:2) is too prominent because of its distinctive tone quality?I believe it?s tuba and pizzicato basses. Paradoxically, doubled in octaves it would produce a better blend, and convey better the less obvious, almost subliminal quality that it does in the original.


But these details (and I could cite many more, both felicitous and problematic) should not overshadow the accomplishment that Brewaeys has achieved here. My biggest complaint is that the two discs, necessitated by a timing less than a minute over the capacity of a single CD, sell at full price. Still, anyone interested in the art of orchestration, or in hearing these pieces in a very different way, will do well to swallow hard and spend the money. This is a singular achievement.


FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

1.
Préludes, Book 1 by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Daniele Callegari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1910; France 
Notes: Arranger: Luc Brewaeys. 
2.
Préludes, Book 2 by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Daniele Callegari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912-1913; France 
Notes: Arranger: Luc Brewaeys. 

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