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CD Review

Debussy / Brewaeys


Recomposition for Symphony Orchestra

Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniele Callegari
Talent Records DOM381004/05 2CDs: 41:18, 39:47
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If you happened to hear a broadcast of some of this recording, not having heard of it before, and supposing also that you were not intimately familiar with the two books of Preludes which Debussy wrote for the piano but were in fact quite familiar with all the orchestral work of Debussy – and Ravel – you might be almost beside yourself trying to identify what you were hearing. Even if you are in fact quite familiar with the Preludes you still might have difficulty. For myself, knowing very well what works I was hearing on this recording, I still was very surprised to hear a familiar-sounding passage that brought La Mer to mind – with all its power – and another that reminded me of Ravel's La Valse – among many fresh sounds.

Luc Brewaeys' respect for Debussy's work is such that in producing this version of the Preludes – first performed in Brussels at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in late 2004 and late 2005 – he "decided not to touch Debussy's notes." No doubling, even. "There's not a single octave in the score, which was not written by Debussy himself….also during the loud passages where the temptation to add notes for additional effect is great: I mainly searched for very specific, original combinations of sounds within the orchestral forces." He says that "it wasn't my intention to orchestrate the works as Debussy would have done himself. I wanted to give my own interpretation of the orchestral colours."

Brewaeys certainly succeeded in coming up with creative sonorities, much more so than others who have orchestrated piano originals. The results are very satisfying, in fact splendid, and I highly recommend this very welcome recording. But as with all such orchestral transformations, the simple fact that the piano is inescapably percussive means that notes played on its highest octave have a very different sound when violins play them at the same pitches; the timbres of the instruments of a symphony orchestra are extremely different from those of the piano; and the dynamic range of an orchestra of course vastly exceeds that of a piano. Thus this version of the Preludes sounds very different from the original – but still sounds very much like Debussy's orchestral works, to my ears.

So the question remains: why does Brewaeys call his work a "recomposition" rather than an orchestration, the more expected term? If you have heard it, is he right? I would welcome any comments.

Copyright © 2006, R. James Tobin