Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande Import
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Erna Spoorenberg is a memorably pointed Melisande, with a timbre somewhat like Soderstrom but less astringent. Camille Maurane is as good a Pelleas as they come, the heir to Jacques Jansen and the end of the line in the great tradition. George London is a burly, physically frightening Golaud and Guus Hoekmann is the bassiest of Arkels. Ernest Ansermet directs his Suisse Romande Orchestra with vast knowledge, love and experience, and miraculous balance and timing. Decca/London's production team keeps the drama front and center, working rarely enough in an actual opera house.
There are great mono recordings of Pelleas, including Desormiere, Fournet and Ansermet's earlier version. There are fine individual things in stereo versions with Ingelbrecht, Baudo, Dutoit, Boulez, Jordan and Carewe (about in that order). There are Teutonized inflations with Karajan, Abbado and Haitink that have pleasures of their own.
There is also an atrocious wipeout with Casadesus on Naxos that testifies to the death of the French performing tradition. The singing there is the worst of any Pelleas recording. This Ansermet reissue is actually sold by Amazon for less than the Naxos version, so there is no reason anymore for anyone to buy that terrible night in Lille under Casadesus.
You can buy this Ansermet recording in the warm, comforting knowledge that you have paid for the cheapest commercial stereo CD set of Pelleas, and also the best at any price.
This recording is my primary recommendation for Pelleas on CD for, in addition to the foregoing, it has excellent sound and is priced at the budget level. In comparison to my two other favorites on CD, the Desormiere, being from 1941, is obviously limited sonically, and the Inghelbrecht is only available in a not widely available five CD set, which includes other music of Debussy, and is priced at nearly sixty dollars.
While Ansermet's tempi and orchestral balances may not be quite as dramatic or riveting as Karajan's EMI/Angel and - subsequently - Abbado's DGG recordings in many respects (and yes, quite a few times Karajan and Abbado have the edge here also in terms of orchestral playing and overall conception in addition to allowing the music to roar when it is best to do so, Debussy's restraint notwithstanding!), it often also best brings out the poetry of this unique opera, assisted by Decca/London's outstanding recording.
[It should be pointed out that "Pelléas et Mélisande" very possibly IMHO is not only the most subtle and atmospheric opera ever written, but also an example of how much the voice can do better in characterization with Debussy's approach than the conventional way almost everybody else uses!]
Also, while Frederica von Stade (for Karajan) frequently sounds a bit too coquettish and actively part of events (though still better vocally than Maria Ewing for Abbado - she's the principal liability there!!!Read more ›
The cast in general sounds less wispy, too, with George london a rare basso Golaud, weighty and physical in his presence--we hardly ever get a Wagnerian crashing the gates of Pelleas's dream world. Erna Spoorenberg also breaks the mold; unlike most Melisandes, she isn't fragile or unearthly. She sounds almost sensible, and her voice has no baby-girl fragility or tremulousness. The only conventional lead is the Pelleas of Camille Maurane, whose nasally, tenorish baritone is to the manner born.
In sum, this amounts to a frothright Pelleas that some Debussians woun't naturally warm up to, but I like its earthiness very much. It's a relaxed performance whose flame doesn't rise high, but in a more modest way it's very appealing. Decca's sound is clear, detailed, and natural.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The idea of reissuing a French opera without the full libretto and translations is, at any price level, an obscenity. Read morePublished 13 months ago by david
Beware of the MP3 version - someone has inserted small fade-outs at the end of each track, interrupting the music, making it impossible to listen to.Published on December 24, 2010 by music guy