DEBUSSY Jeux; Préludes – Elder
The Diaghilev/Nijinsky scenario for the ballet Jeux was a twilight search for a tennis ball by two girls and a young man, all of whom then dance together in turn. Innocent as it may seem, like Les biches, the narrative has an underlying eroticism. The diaphonous atmospheric detail from the strings and subtle wind colouring in Debussy’s poème dansé require great delicacy of feeling and sensuous caressing from the violins in the moments of restrained ecstasy, which are exquisitely realised here. The transparent acoustic of the Bridgewater Hall and the balancing skill of producer Andrew Keener add to the allure of this miraculous score, with the violent climax superbly graduated and the closing pages returning spontaneously to the opening mood.
The programme is completed by 12 more of Colin Matthews’s highly imaginative orchestrations of Debussy’s piano Préludes, and these, to my ears, have even more distinction than the first group, which came in harness with Mark Elder’s compelling Hallé account of La mer (5/07). The shimmering textures Matthews creates from the “Danseuses de Delphes”, “Des pas sur la neige” and “Les fées sont d’exquises” are even more translucently exotic, balanced by the luxuriance of “Bruyères”. If not quite matching Stokowski’s famous over-the-top transcription, “La cathédrale engloutie” produces a splendidly expansive, watery spectacle, tolling bell included, which is sonorously moving. However, I thought “S Pickwick Esq”, with its side drum and mocksolemn national anthem snippet on the brass, rather too heavily pompous, not witty enough, and “Feux d’artifice”, too, is a bit of a damp squib – it sounds much more effective in its barer piano original. Moreover, Colin Matthews’s own Monsieur Croche makes an exuberantly brilliant postlude, even if its helter-skelter progress obviously includes very few crochets. Altogether this is a fascinating and rewarding disc and is well worth aquiring to make a pair, alongside its illustrious companion.