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Complete Works: the Centenary Edition
Import, Box Set
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Audio CD, Box set, Import, February 23, 2018
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Limited Edition 24-disc set presenting the complete published works of Claude Debussy – 22 CDs and a double DVD set of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Featuring legendary performances by acclaimed Debussy performers and conductors, including Maurizio Pollini, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Monique Haas, Pierre Boulez, Charles Dutoit and Daniel Barenboim, as well as young stars like Rafal Blechacz and Seong-Jin Cho. Includes the first CD releases of Barenboim’s 1980s recording with the Orchestre de Paris (Nocturnes) and Dino Ciani’s Children’s Corner (1971), both newly remastered form the original tapes. Also Includes three CDs of additional historical recordings by Friedrich Gulda, Monique Haas, Sviatoslav Richter and others.
With a 200 page booklet
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'La Mer' is L.109 in the Deutsche Grammophon box, but L.111 in the Warner box.
Depending on which box you bought, every composition will have a different "L" number.
[with one exception: “Pour le piano” is W.95 in both boxes.]
Francois Lesure published his catalog of Debussy's music in 1977.
141 works were assigned "L" numbers (in order of composition).
The revised edition of Lesure's catalog (with an additional nine compositions) was published in 2003.
Rather than simply amend the 1977 listing, the editors decided to assign totally new numbers (1-150) to everything.
Deutsche Grammophon uses the obsolete 1977 "L" numbers.
Warner uses the revised 2003 "L" numbers.
I will follow the example of the "Centre de documentation Claude Debussy", which uses the 2003 numbers with the 1977 numbers in parentheses.
For the 100th anniversary of Debussy's death, two of the big three conglomerates have issued boxes of his "complete" works:
-- Warner (EMI + Erato) = reviewed on this page (33CD)
-- Universal (Deutsche Grammophon + Decca + Philips) = Complete Works: the Centenary Edition (22CD + 2DVD)
The third conglomerate, Sony (CBS + RCA) has yet to be heard from.
If you subtract the CDs of historical recordings, music by other composers, and DVDs, you are left with 19 CDs in the DG box, versus 30 CDs in the Warner box.
Of the 150 compositions with “L” numbers, 12 have never been recorded, usually due to their fragmentary condition.
This leaves 138 possibilities.
The Warner box includes all 138 (sometimes in multiple versions).
DG includes 118.
The absolutely complete Warner box appeals to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Both boxes are attractively priced.
MAJOR COMPOSITIONS MISSING FROM THE DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON BOX:
--- L.46 (50) Première Suite d'Orchestre (1883)
Debussy's earliest surviving orchestral work.
Both boxes have Debussy’s piano, four hands arrangement of what was once thought to be a “lost” orchestral work.
But Debussy’s orchestration of three of four movements was discovered and recorded in 2012.
It’s in the Warner box.
--- L.48 (51) “Diane au bois” comédie lyrique (1883-85)
Debussy’s first opera.
It survives in substantial fragments with piano accompaniment (28 minutes).
Only in the Warner box.
--- L.68 (61) Printemps (1884)
Both boxes have the familiar 1912 orchestra-only version.
Warner also has the 1884 original for wordless chorus & piano, four hands (did Ravel know this? it sounds like an early sketch for "Daphnis et Chloe").
--- L.80 (72) “Rodrigue et Chimène” (1890-92).
Debussy’s second opera.
Debussy composed nearly all the music in piano score, but never got around to orchestrating it.
The world premiere was in 1993 - in an orchestration by Edison Denisov.
110 minutes of hitherto unheard Debussy.
Only in the Warner box.
--- L.102 (96) Musique de scène pour Chansons de Bilitis for actress, two flutes, two harps & celesta (1900)
[not to be confused with the song cycle “Trois Chansons de Bilitis” L97(90)]
DG actually has a nice recording with Catherine Deneuve, but apparently forgot (Warner has Delphne Seyrig)
In addition to “Diane au bois” (1883-85) and “Rodrigue et Chimène” (1890-92), Debussy worked on three additional operas:
--- L.93 (88) “Pelléas et Mélisande” (1893-1902) is of course in both boxes.
--- L.106 (101) “Le Diable dans le beffroi” (1902-11) only survives in very brief sketches. In neither box.*
--- L.121 (112) “La chute de la maison Usher” (1908-17) survives as fragments with piano accompaniment.
The first recording ever was on EMI in 1984, in an orchestration by Juan Allende Blin (23 minutes):
Debussy: La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) / Caplet: Conte Fantastique (Fantastic Tale) / Schmitt: Etude pour 'Le Palais Hante' (Study for 'The Haunted Palace') op. 49
Instead of using it for their box, Warner commissioned a 2017 recording with piano accompaniment (27 minutes), then loaned the 1984 recording to the competition.
It’s in the DG box.
* There is a recording of “Le Diable dans le beffroi” on Amazon that I am hesitant to recommend:
Debussy: The Edgar Allen Poe Operas
The editor created a pastiche, setting the libretto to music of his own composition inspired by Debussy's sketches, plus music borrowed from other Debussy works, resulting in a 39 minute opera.
Coupled in a two CD set with “La chute de la maison Usher”, which is given the same treatment (stretched to 52 minutes).
No matter how good the finished result may sound, it's not really Debussy.
L.130 (124) “Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien” was a five act mystery play (mystére en 5 mansions) by Gabriele d’Annunzio with music by Debussy.
DG gives us all of Debussy’s music (52 minutes).
Warner gives us the same music, but heard in the context of d’Annunzio’s play (131 minutes).
A mind-numbing experience unless you understand the French language.
One terrible miscalculation:
Warner does not include texts or translations for the vocal works.
Deutsche Grammophon does include them for the published works, but I already seem to have most of these in my CD collection.
I have a libretto for "Pelléas et Mélisande", but try to find one for "Diane au bois".
-- LIST OF VOCAL AND CHORAL MUSIC see Comment One (click on “Sort by Oldest”)
-- LIST OF INSTRUMENTAL & ORCHESTRAL MUSIC see Comment Two
-- "L" NUMBERS CONVERSION TABLE see Comment Three