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Scottish Ensemble - Debussy & Takemitsu - American Record Guide

16 August 2016
American Record Guide
Stephen Wright

I think this might be the first recording of Debussy’s Quartet by a string orchestra; at least my scouring of the internet turned up no other. The 17 strings of the Scottish Ensemble play Jonathan Morton’s arrangement with pure, shimmering, glassy timbre and minimal vibrato, coolly detached—antipode to the Amaryllis Quartet’s fierce concentration that I reviewed earlier this year (March/April; Genuin 15373). I like the beefy bass notes of the chamber orchestra—not possible from a single cello—and the interpretation is superficially beautiful but doesn’t plumb very deeply the music’s expressive depths. The two arrangements of Debussy piano pieces take the same approach: beautiful, serene, detached, bloodless.

Like Debussy, Takemitsu was inspired by imagery, especially by movies. The two Film Scores pieces are from his own movie scores, and Nostalghia is a tribute to a director he admired. The latter, last piece on the program, is bleak and expressionistic, a depiction of homesickness—but it’s the anguish of missing one’s home, not a sepia-hued sentimental reminiscence. The language is chromatic, Bergian, with a jagged, wandering solo violin part all through. The movie pieces are more conventionally evocative: funeral music for post-World War II Hiroshima and training day and recuperation music for a Puerto Rican boxer, depicted by a swaggering tango.

The recorded sound is cold, pure, and pristine; the booklet notes are thorough.

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