Delightful Debussy Orchestrations

Debussy Orchestrated

  • Pascal Rophé (conductor); Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire
  • Recorded 2021
  • BIS-2622 (1SACD)

This album is simply the embodiment of unadulterated joy. Here we have three of Debussy’s most accessible and evocative piano scores, orchestrated by two of his contemporaries Henri Büsser (Petite Suite) and André Caplet (La boîte à joujoux and Children’s Corner), gathered in one handy package. It’s such a winning concept that I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before – these orchestrations deserve much wider exposure than they currently receive, both in performance and on record.

Admittedly, I initially approached this disc with a sense of trepidation. Perhaps in a well-intentioned bid to add to the relative dearth of Debussy’s orchestral creations, his piano music has received numerous orchestrations, many of which are unconvincing, clunky translations of Debussy’s characteristically elegant pianistic writing. It’s therefore an immense relief to hear these three suites orchestrated so ingeniously and tastefully. Like all great orchestrations of piano music, these realizations greatly reveal the originals’ coloristic possibilities, all while preserving their spirit to an astonishing degree of fidelity. Put another way, if you approached these works for the first time through these orchestrations, chances are you wouldn’t suspect that they were anything other than the original works. They just sound “right”.

I’m also thrilled to report that the performances do these gorgeous orchestrations full justice. Pascal Rophé, whose work is new to me, is a wonderfully sensitive Debussy interpreter. His thoughtfulness is perhaps most evident in the first and third movements of the Petite Suite, where, at a tempo a hair slower than the norm, he caresses the music and lets its natural, languid lyricism breathe, to absolutely melting effect. Yet he’s far from precious: he invests the faster, dance-like music (e.g., Ballet in Petite Suite, Golliwog’s Cakewalk in Children’s Corner) with the requisite rhythmic sharpness and joie de vivre. His Loire orchestra responds with performances of utmost commitment and finesse. It also helps that they have some splendid first-desk wind principals in their ranks; they spin out solos as ravishingly timbred and perfectly phrased as I ever hope to hear. All of this is captured in typically BIS sound: clear, natural, and impactful.

Of the competition in this repertoire (not that there has been much), Jun Märkl’s series on Naxos with the Orchestre National de Lyon is perhaps a touch more detailed but certainly not more evocative than these performances, while Jean Martinon’s classic ORTF set on EMI/Warner at times strike me as rough around the edges and lacking that pristine tendresse this music seems to require, colorful and energetic those performances undoubtedly are. In the end, the benefit of having these delightful arrangements conveniently on one SACD tips the scales in this album’s favor.

Sumptuously engineered, exquisitely interpreted, and skilfully orchestrated, this disc is a ray of sunshine in the dark days of today. I return to it often, and I guarantee that you will too.


This album, featuring masterful orchestrations of three of Debussy’s most charming piano suites in beautifully played and recorded performances, is self-recommending and a joy from start to finish. An essential listen and one that I return to often.

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