Although Zoltán Kocsis began his musical career as a pianist while still quite young, in recent years he has appeared before the public more often as the conductor of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra than as a piano recitalist.
It is perhaps not surprising that his latest musical endeavor has been joining his intimate knowledge of the piano repertoire of Bartók and Debussy with his knowledge of the orchestra gained by orchestrating some of their piano works.
Orchestrations by Zoltán Kocsis of works by Debussy and Ravel is a new CD release by Hungaroton which combines Kocsis's dual interests and features the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and soprano Júlia Hajnóczy. He has taken some lesser known piano works or songs with piano accompaniment and given them a new colorful voice. The Debussy compositions include a Scottish bagpipe-inspired piece – Marche ecossaise – two Images, and the Ariettes oubliées song settings of poems by Paul Verlaine. He has also orchestrated two more movements of Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin- the Fugueand the Toccata- and placed them within the context of the other four movements scored by the composer himself. In addition, the CD includes orchestrations by Ravel of a few other movements by himself and by Debussy.
The works which most faithfully recreate the sound of Debussy's lush orchestra are the songs.
Right from the outset of C'est l'extase langoureuse the divisi muted strings create that vaporous veil so characteristic of the French master. Kocsis paints a glowing canvas with delicate, pastel orchestral colors in this and many of the other songs, holding back from unleashing the full force available in the large orchestra. His skilful use of harp and horns, solo English horn and woodwind combinations sound as though Debussy himself might have scored these songs.
These Ariettes oubliées also make quite a good effect because of the beautifully blended sound of the National Philharmonic. Júlia Hajnóczy has more than a little to do with the songs' success, of course, though one feels the young soprano's voice still has some maturing to do before it eventually achieves a strength and evenness in all registers. She is best in the quiet declamatory passages and a little wobbly in the forte high range. Still, her vocal quality is usually pleasing.
Not all of Kocsis's orchestrations are equally convincing. Some, such as Debussy's Marche, the third Image or the Ravel Toccata, can be a bit heavy handed and lack that exquisite uniqueness we associate with original orchestrations by Debussy and Ravel. However, Kocsis's orchestrations never fail to make an impression.
The CD is presented in a clear, well-rounded acoustics. The orchestra's playing and Kocsis's direction are superior throughout. All in all, this CD will be welcomed by enthusiasts of the music of Debussy and Ravel.
Orchestrations by Zoltán Kocsis of works by Debussy and Ravel Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, Kocsis Júlia Hajnóczy, soprano
Hungaroton HCD 32106
(The Budapest Sun)