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The Engulfed Cathedral (arr. Stokowski)
L'Isle Joyeuse (Molinari)
Deux Arabesques (Mouton)
La Mer
Bruyères (Percy Grainger)
Danse-Tarantelle Styrienne (Ravel)
Children's Corner (Caplet)
Geoffrey Simon conducts The Philharmonia Orchestra
CALA CACD1024 [69:18]
'Recorded at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London: January 1990. High Resolution remastering February 2000 Recoupled and remastered from the original Cala Records releases CACD1001 and CACD1002'

I suggest that this review is read in conjunction with that of the Cala companion Debussy album, 'Night in Granada' which I am reviewing this month too.

Many musicians have felt compelled to transcribe many of Debussy's highly atmospheric and evocative piano pieces for orchestra. This album, together with its companion disc is a fascinating collection of some of these transcriptions.

Stokowski's transcription of La Cathédral Engloutie from Debussy's First Book of Preludes published in 1910 is a sonic spectacular realised wonderfully in this vivid performance. There is an uncanny evocation of watery depths and submerged liturgical splendour. Debussy's exuberant piano rhapsody, L'Isle Joyeuse was inspired by a painting by Watteau entitled, Embarquement pour Cythère. Bernard Molinari's transcription enhances all its sparkle and sensuality. The early Deux Arabesques were written for piano in 1891. They have great charm and delicacy and "are the musical equivalents of designs in Arabian art of interlacing patterns in graceful curves". Film fans might recall that Dimitri Tiomkin, adapted this and other works of Debussy for the charming fantasy, Portrait of Jenny.

This album contains another Percy Grainger world première recording - that of his orchestration of Bruyères. Bruyères comes from the Second Book of Twelve Preludes (published in 1913). This is a picture of the Scottish highlands and the composer's subtle evocation of the bagpipes, is turned by the inventive Grainger into a highly effective combination of woodwinds, horn, alto saxophone and harmonium.

Ravel's swiftly-moving and glittering orchestration of the 1890 piano piece, Danse-Tarantelle Styrienne spills over with colour and excitement. André Caplet orchestrated the charming Children's Corner suite, dedicated to Debussy's small daughter 'Chouchou'. Debussy praised Caplet's work as being "gorgeously apparelled". The titles and musical evocations are mostly self-explanatory: 'Doctor Gradus and Parnassum' is an exuberance based on children's piano fingering exercises; 'Jimbo's Lullaby' is an amusing, ponderous piece about a toy elephant being lullabyed to sleep; 'Serenading for the Doll' has an exotic delicacy; 'The Snow is Dancing' is just that, while the well-known pastoral 'The Little Shepherd' has a plaintive little tune for the higher woodwinds. The suite concludes with that Debussy favourite, 'Golliwog's Cakewalk' that mixes jazz and Wagner whose Prelude to Tristan and Isolde is briefly satirised.

The programme is rounded off with a nicely observed reading, urgent and warm of one of Debussy's own orchestral works - La Mer. Simon includes the striking fanfares for brass, eight bars before figure 60 in the last movement which as Noel Goodwin once wrote: "shine out like a sudden shaft of sunlight above the rest of the orchestra. There are of course many, many distinguished recordings of La Mer including: Karajan's inspired 1964 reading, and those of Ansermet, Guilini, and Previn all impress; I was particularly drawn to Celibidache's Stuttgart live performance recently released by DG.

Another invaluable addition to the Debussy discography.

****(*) Ian Lace

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