Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande. © 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas

CD Spotlight

The Ultimate Recording

François-Xavier Roth's recording of Debussy's 'Pelléas et Mélisande', recommended by GEOFF PEARCE

'... all are truly outstanding ...'


I was very much looking forward to hearing this recording. I have only heard this work twice before, and the last time was live with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and soloists conducted by Charles Dutoit a few years ago, but it was still fresh in my mind.

This five act opera is quite a difficult one for the audience - there are no large arias in the formal sense and the work is divided into quite a number of relatively short scenes.

At the time it was written, the stage works of Maeterlinck were popular amongst the followers of the avant-garde. Debussy set the text directly, after making a number of cuts, and this was revolutionary for the time. Debussy himself explains the reasons why this play appealed to him thus:

The drama of Pelléas which, despite its dream-like atmosphere, contains far more humanity than those so-called 'real-life documents', seemed to suit my intentions admirably. In it there is an evocative language whose sensitivity could be extended into music and into the orchestral backcloth.

Listen — Debussy: Prenez garde! Par ici, par ici (Pelléas et Mélisande Act III Scene 2)
(CD2 track 4, 2:23-3:21) ℗ 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The composer had issues with Maeterlinck over who should be cast as the leading lady, and leading up to the first performance, Debussy's fastidious nature also caused issues with some of the cast and management. When it was first performed, the reaction was mixed. However it has been performed many times and continues to be regularly, both staged and in concert form.

Listen — Debussy: Mes longs cheveux descendent jusqu'au seuil de la tour!
(Pelléas et Mélisande Act III Scene 1)
(CD2 track 1, 1:09-2:08) ℗ 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas :

Firstly, the accompanying booklet to this recording is comprehensive and informative, and I think this is always important, especially for one hearing the work for the first time.

This recording is, for me, as close to perfection as one could possibly get. Les Siècles, the very important orchestra under the direction of François-Xavier Roth, understands this work very well, and plays with a precision and attention to detail that is truly inspired. The orchestral colour is integral to this work and underpins a lot of the often-veiled tension.

Listen — Debussy: Oui, c'est ici, nous y sommes (Pelléas et Mélisande Act II Scene 3)
(CD1 track 16, 1:41-2:25) ℗ 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The soloists have been chosen with consummate care. All are truly outstanding, and it would be unfair to single any one of them out. One thing I did enjoy was the use of the boy soprano to play the quite important role of Yniold. The boy in this recording, Hadrien Joubert, had a compelling, innocent voice and was able to project the feeling of being somewhat bewildered by Golaud's questioning as to what might be going on between Pelleas and Melisande.

Listen — Debussy: Viens, nous allons nous asseoir ici, Yniold
(Pelléas et Mélisande Act III Scene 4)
(CD2 track 6, 2:31-3:25) ℗ 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The role of the chorus is not large - there are no rousing choruses as in many other operas. However, like everything else here, the Chœur de l'Opéra de Lille directed by Yves Parmentier certainly adds to the atmosphere of the whole performance.

Listen — Debussy: Ohé! Hisse, ohé (Pelléas et Mélisande Act I Scene 3)
(CD1 track 8, 0:00-0:57) ℗ 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas :

I would recommend this recording, even if you have other versions of Pelléas in your collection, as this is really such a fine production. The recording engineering and overall quality of sound are warm, intimate and clear. For me, this is the ultimate recording.

Copyright © 14 January 2022 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








 << Home              Next review >>