Notes and Editorial Reviews
This 33-CD set stands as the most complete collection of recordings of Debussy’s music ever made: it comprises all his known works, including four pieces in world premiere recordings which were made especially for this edition. Compiled in collaboration with renowned Debussy expert Denis Herlin (responsible for several critical editions of Debussy’s music for Durand, the composer’s publisher), the box comprises recordings carefully chosen for their artistic quality and their authenticity of spirit. They span more than a century, even including recordings made by Debussy himself – he was a superb pianist. Many other distinguished names are among the performers, including a suitably impressive contingent from France.
Unlike DG’s recent incomplete Complete Works box, this one, all 33 CDs of it, really makes an effort to do the job right. Indeed, it contains more than the complete works, because you get both everything Debussy wrote as well as everything he arranged or transcribed–like movements from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, or Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture (deliciously trashy). You also get a rich selection of items transcribed, orchestrated, or arranged by others, including the complete opera Rodrigue et Chimène, scored by Edison Denisov. Finally, for works that exist in multiple versions, or in full-length and suite form, such as the Piano Fantasy or The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, all of the various alternatives are included. In short, it’s all here.
EMI (now Warner) has the greatest catalog of French music of any label, and the selection here, with very few exceptions, reflect this strength. In the orchestral works, La Mer and the Nocturnes feature an inspired choice: Giulini and the Philharmonia. The choice of Rattle and Birmingham for the Images is there because, well, it’s Rattle, but to be fair it’s pretty good, and the rest features the likes of Cluytens and Martinon, so you can’t go wrong. A special shout out to Jacques Fèvier and Georges Tzipine in the first version of the Piano Fantasy (Duchable and Plasson take on the revised score), and yes, the early Suite for Orchestra is here too, in both its originally intended and piano versions.
In the canonical solo piano works, it’s wonderful to see Yuri Egorov’s Debussy recordings back in the catalog (Preludes I and II, plus Estampes). Pierre-Laurent Aimard takes on the two books of Images plus the Etudes, while Samson François turns up in Pour le piano, Children’s Corner and shorter pieces. Other pianists taking part in the festivities include Aldo Ciccolini, Monique Haas, Jean-Pierre Armengaud, Alice Ader, Michel Béroff, Jean-Philippe Collard, and quite a few others. It’s a genuine Who’s Who of major French pianists.
EMI’s classic set of Debussy mélodies reappears, as expected. That set features big names such as Mady Mesplé, Gérard Souzay, Elly Ameling, Barbara Hendricks, and Michèle Command. It’s supplemented by additional and alternative performances by the next generation of French song enthusiasts, including Natalie Dessay, Véronique Gens, Gilles Ragon and several others. Unfortunately texts and translations are not included in the otherwise pretty substantial booklet, but you can kind of understand why. This version of Pélleas et Mélisande, by the way, is as welcome as it is unexpected: Armin Jordan’s fine version from Monte Carlo featuring Rachel Yakar and Éric Tappy as two very sympathetic protagonists (Philippe Huttenlocher sings Golaud, the villain).
Finally, Disc 33 includes all of the recordings we have of Debussy playing his own music, whether from piano rolls or early acoustic discs. It’s delightful to hear his take on Children’s Corner, and accompanying his favorite soprano, Mary Garden, in the Ariettes oubliées–among other pieces. In sum, if you’re looking for the complete Debussy on disc, this really is the only show in town, and happily it’s one well worth owning.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz)