Notes and Editorial Reviews
Charles Dutoit may protest that opera "isn't really my department" (see page 1640), but this Pelléas of his is certainly the best modern recorded performance of this elusive masterpiece – a work worlds away from the conventional operatic repertoire. I will go further and say that it is the best of all CD recordings of it; the 1941 Desormiére (EMI), with a near-perfect cast except for a slightly inexact Arkel, is only in mono (shallow but clear); the 1962 Inghelbrecht (Disques Montaigne/Scott Butler), besides containing slips, almost inevitable in a live performance, and having words sometimes drowned by the orchestra, suffers from a tiresomely bronchial audience; both the two name-parts in the Nice Opera performance
conducted by Carewe (Pierre Verany PV788093/4, 8/89 – not currently available in the UK) are disappointing; and Karajan (EMI), as well as Wagnerizing Debussy, allows his singers to pay scant attention to the composer's meticulously notated rhythms (a point which many of Karajan's ecstatic admirers failed to notice).
Dutoit secures richness in plenty when powerful orchestral sonority is called for, but the orchestra's playing as a whole has an essentially Gallic refinement, clarity and sensitivity unmatched by any of the other recordings; its tonal colour is ravishing when Pelléas ties Mélisande's hair to the tree. And though some may perhaps consider this too nice a point, Dutoit is dead right in insisting on an entirely native French-speaking cast for this unique work, not only so that it may sound idiomatic (and we're inclined to be too indulgent about mispronunciations and mistakes in words) but so that every verbal nuance can be brought out. The composer, after all, attached top priority to the text and felt that the music "should no more than hint at what is said". Two of the winning features of this recording are the exemplary enunciation of the entire cast and their response to all the subtle changes of mood and atmosphere. Of Golaud, the most sharply and comprehensively drawn character, Gilles Cachemaille gives an outstanding reading – a virile and passionate man, quickly roused to violence and tormented by a jealousy that finally brings catastrophe. He conveys a wistful regret when Mélisande refuses to rescue the crown (of her far-off country) from the water; he can switch in an instant from tenderness to everincreasing anxiety and fury on hearing of the loss of his ring; it is understandable that his crossquestioning of little Yniold should frighten the child. In that part, incidentally, Françoise Golfier is wonderfully convincing: her light, non-vibrato tone, her way of not sustaining final notes of phrases, her voicing of Yniold's outbursts of fear, are so astonishingly childlike that only her control of intonation suggests that she is an adult.
Colette Alliot-Lugaz's interpretation of Mélisande is rather unusual: here is no fey dreamer but a study in an emotionally cool ingenuousness"une grande innocence" – so profound as to be unaware of the currents she is arousing. Her voice is admirably suited to the role, youthful but with no hint of the soubrette: she excellently characterizes Mélisande's childish hurried lie about the lost ring; but I wish she had waited a moment longer before that whispered climactic moment "Je t'aime aussi". Didier Henry makes an eager and appealing young Pelléas, his opening lines more baritonal than some, but with a splendid high register (ringing A flats and A), and particularly likeable in the scene of the tresses. However, as is so often the case, it is the Arkel who is the weakest link in the chain: for most of the time Pierre Thau is entirely reliable, but in Act 5 things start to slip a bit. At the start of the act he seems to be trying to get ahead of Dutoit; near the end he incorrectly pitches "Ne parlez pas trop fort" and (as Mélisande dies) sings a glaring wrong note on "Etes-vous sûr?": someone should have spotted these flaws.
Dutoit's handling of the score is sensitive, involved and secure: one or two tempos, however, might be questioned – the gear-change between scenes 1 and 2 of Act 4 doesn't sound entirely convincing; and he takes the servants' entry in Act 5 appreciably faster, although Debussy indicates Même mouvement; but all in all, this is a most rewarding reading; the whipping-up of tension during the questioning of Yniold has one on the edge of one's chair. The production is commendably restrained – not too Hammer Films: a hollow acoustic for the dank underground cave, for example – but the chorus of sailors (which was barely audible in Karajan's version) sounds too close to accord with the line "il est déjà bien loin". These are minor points: as I intimated at the beginning, this is the most satisfying Pelléas now available.
-- Gramophone [3/1991]
reviewing the original release, Decca 430502
Works on This Recording
Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Phillip Ens (Bass),
Didier Henry (Baritone),
Colette Alliot-Lugaz (Soprano),
Claudine Carlson (Mezzo Soprano),
Pierre Thau (Bass),
Gilles Cachemaille (Baritone),
Françoise Golfier (Soprano)
Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1893-1902; France
Date of Recording: 05/1990
Venue: St Eustache Church, Montreal
Length: 150 Minutes 44 Secs.
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