Sir Mark joins Ansermet, Cluytens, Dutoit and Munch (and I have a soft spot for Previn’s LSO recording, and an indelible memory of Boulez and the BBCSO in the Royal Festival Hall, early-nineties, as pristine and as shimmering as could be wished for) in documenting, during May last year, a distinguished version of Debussy’s Images pour orchestre, an England-Spain-France travelogue – Gigues, Ibéria, Rondes de printemps – very well-judged as to atmosphere, balance, blend, colour, fragrance and suggestion, and also to the painterly aspects of the music, without overdoing the Impressionism, not a description the composer took kindly to.
Elder secures detailed playing, the Hallé totally responsive, and catches the ear with personal but not interventionist touches – subtlety and finesse are the hallmarks here but with no lack of seduction and festivity when required. In a word, excellent, as well as lucidly and dynamically recorded. So too for Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, launched by a come-hither flute solo from Katherine Baker, Elder taking an expansive view of this hypnotic creation, growing it organically to full bloom.
Also included is ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut’, from Debussy’s second series of the for-piano Images, luminously orchestrated by Colin Matthews, a work of art on the arranger’s part and reminiscent of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and the “slower than slow” waltz that is La plus que lente, also a piano piece, heard in Debussy’s own instrumentation, made after he’d heard somebody else’s. Hallé CD HLL 7554.