Christopher Dingle
BBC Music Magazine
January 2012

Recordings of La mer are not in short supply, so it is good to be offered a distinctive coupling. In this case it is 12 of Colin Matthews’s orchestrations of Debussy’s Preludes, trumping the three included with the marvellous recent version from Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, reviewed September 2005). It is brave placing Matthews’s arrangements alongside one of Debussy’s orchestral masterpieces, and it is a measure of his skill that this is not complete folly. Some are evocative of Debussy’s orchestral soundworld, the luminescent opening of ‘Canope’ transporting us into the realm of Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien. Others, such as La fille aux cheveux de lin, deliberately, and effectively, transform the entire sense of Debussy’s original. In this case, the tempo is much slower, surely making this a woman rather than a girl with flaxen hair … the Hallé are resplendent under Mark Elder, with ravishing colours and finely etched detail, though the otherwise excellent recording places the brass either miles away or in your lap. There is also a recurrent sense of the beauty of the moment masking the bigger picture. It seems the sun will never rise in De l’aube à midi sur la mer, while Jeux de vagues takes time to find a spring in its step. Rattle keeps a much tauter grasp, while Haitink’s classic account with the Royal Concertgebouw remains unsurpassed.