On Record – Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire / Pascal Rophé: Debussy Orchestrated (BIS)

Debussy Orchestrated

Debussy arr. Büsser Petite Suite; Debussy arr. Caplet La boîte à joujoux (1919), Children’s Corner (1911)

What’s the story?

This beautifully packaged collection from BIS brings together a trio of Debussy pieces arranged for orchestra. There are two characterful suites whose cleaner lines look back to classical and baroque forms, beginning with the four-movement Petite Suite, originally for two pianos and arranged for orchestra by Henri Büsser.

The central work of the three is La boîte à joujoux (The toy box). This surprisingly substantial piece was written by Debussy in 1913 as a piano score, but due to the first World War was not performed until 1919, after the composer’s death, by which time it had been orchestrated by André Caplet. The ballet tells in miniature detail of a toy soldier falling in love with a doll protected by a polichinelle, who will not give her up. The two fight and the soldier is wounded, but is nursed back to health by the doll, and they fall in love.

Caplet was a trusted collaborator, having already arranged Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite for orchestra in 1911. The composer wrote the piano version for his daughter Claude-Emma, nicknamed ‘Chou-Chou’, in 1908.

What’s the music like?

As attractive as the cover! What is abundantly clear from each of the three scores is that even in his keyboard music Debussy had orchestral designs – which Caplet and Büsser bring to fruition.

The Petite Suite is a charmer in this performance, from the languid En bateau to the brisk, bracing Ballet. The phrasing is especially beautiful in the winds towards the end of the former, while there is an attractive lilt to the Cortège and a light bounce to the rhythms of the Menuet.

La boîte à joujoux features some exquisite storytelling and wind playing. There is a beautiful oboe solo as the scene isset in the toy shop, the music hanging mysteriously. The lovely clarinet in The doll’s waltz is complemented by detailed shading in the strings. There are stylish contributions from the orchestral pianist too, especially at the very end where the orchestra hang on every note. The bluster of battle and The sheepfold for sale leads to a translucent coda. Here a tender, slightly mournful finish from piano is trumped by an emphatic sign off from the orchestra

Children’s Corner is similarly colourful. The Berceuse has long shadows enhanced by the bass strings, but the Serenade for the Doll is delightful. The Snow Is Dancing is appropriately mysterious, and there is a poignant oboe solo for The Little Shepherd. Finally the Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a brilliant study of light and shade, with the ebullient theme a treat.

Does it all work?

It does. Pascal Rophé brings great detail to Debussy’s storytelling, and while the orchestral playing is of an extremely high standard the wind section deserve special mention for the way in which they inhabit the characters of each tale. The BIS recording captures every detail. There are also reminders that in spite of these colourful stories the spectre of World War One lies in the shadows.

Is it recommended?

Heartily. This is a colourful and thoroughly enjoyable album, lovingly realised and beautifully played. An essential addition to any Debussy collection.


On record: Dutilleux – Le Loup; early orchestral works (BIS)


Pascal Rophé, leading exponent of modern French music, conducts this up-and-coming French orchestra in music by a composer whose centenary falls this year, and whose influence on the contemporary music scene is out of all proportion to his modest if fastidiously crafted output.

What’s the music like?

The suite from Henri Decoin’s film La Fille du Diable features six brief items whose elements of Ravel and Stravinsky hardly lessen its attractiveness. Trois Tableaux Symphoniques (1945) derives from a Paris staging of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and is very different from Alfred Newman’s Hollywood score. Both pieces feature a prominent role for Ondes Martenot (made famous by Messiaen in his Turangalîla-Symphonie), its plangent tone to the fore in a haunting evocation of the Yorkshire moors then poignant depiction of the heroine’s demise.

Le Loup is a special case as though Dutilleux all but rejected the ballet, it occupies a crucial role in his evolution. The only previous complete recording – conducted by Pierre Bonneau in 1954 with co-author Jean Anouilh as narrator – has been restored to circulation (on Erato), but this new account (sans narration) is superior. Rophé finds a palpable momentum over its three tableaux, the influence of Prokofiev uppermost with that of Swiss-born Arthur Honegger – the most important younger French composer during the inter-war years – hardly less pervasive.

What is usually referred to as Deux poèmes de Jean Cassou initially comprised three sonnets by the wartime-resistance poet, these ruminations infused with pained nostalgia being joined by ‘Éloignez-vous’ for this more balanced sequence to which Vincent Le Texier responds in ample measure; his insight enhanced by luminous orchestration. More whimsical in manner, the Quatre Mélodies contains some of Dutilleux’s most appealing early inspirations, audibly increased in this resourceful orchestral version that remained unheard for over seven decades.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. From the outset Dutilleux possessed a technical finesse equalled by few of his peers, and while there is nothing on this disc to match his mature masterpieces, this music’s audible connection between its composer’s past and future makes for pleasurable listening.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Rophé secures keenly responsive playing which benefits from the immediate yet spacious SACD sound typical of BIS. Pierre Gervasconi contributes informative notes and this disc is a necessary acquisition, not least for those who think they know their Dutilleux.