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Positive Feedback ISSUE 31
may/june 2007


Debussy, Children's Corner
by Tom Gibbs


Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec. Yoav Talmi, Conductor, Atma Classique CATC 22377 SA Multichannel Hybrid SACD

Much of Claude Debussy's catalog of works was written for solo piano, and as frequently happens in the world of classical music, some bored or disgruntled composer—obviously unhappy with the limitations imposed by the solo piano form—determines that the work in question just has to be transcribed for a particular instrument or perhaps the orchestra in general. I really doubt that the process is as sinister as all that, but Debussy's piano works have certainly inspired their share of transcriptions over the years. This new multichannel SACD from Atma Classique is really noteworthy not only because of it's superb technical values, but also because the program veers from the traditional path, and offers a number of selections that rarely appear on this sort of compilation. The results are excellent in every respect.

Andre Caplet's familiar orchestration of the six miniatures that make up 'Children's Corner' opens the disc; these selections, along with Leopold Stokowski's orchestration of the classic 'Claire de lune' are perhaps the most well-known of the pieces here. Caplet also contributes his orchestration of 'Claire de lune,' and while in many ways it mirrors Stoky's version, it offers much more of an emphasis on strings as opposed to Stokowski's heavy use of woodwinds. I've A-B'd these two selections repeatedly; despite essentially both being the same tune, the differences are so striking that I couldn't imagine having to pick just one version over the other. Another real gem is Ernest Ansermet's rarely played orchestration of 'Six Epigraphes antiques,' six pieces in which Debussy used the piano to imitate sounds produced by ancient instruments. Other contributions come from Maurice Ravel and Henri Busser, whose orchestrations particularly impressed Debussy.

The recording is very atmospheric, placing the listener well within the Saint David Church in Levis, Quebec. Most of the transcriptions have a very delicate nature, and the orchestra's playing reflects that; however, there are moments, such as the opening track 'Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum,' where the orchestra's decibel level rises dramatically. Having turned the volume up significantly—which seemed in keeping with the delicacy of the music—I found myself racing across the room to turn the volume down to a more tolerable level! The Orchestre symphonique de Quebec is Canada's oldest orchestra; the players and conductor Yoav Talmi are obviously intimately familiar with this music, and their playing surpasses all applicable superlatives. I'd be hard pressed to cite a single instance where I felt the performances were the equal or better than what's found in this excellent collection.

This disc is a triumph on every level and definitely on my 'best of' list for 2007. And it clocks in at a generous 72 minutes! Very highly recommended! Many heartfelt thanks to everyone at Atma Classique for all their assistance.