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Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande CD

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Performer: Maria Ewing
  • Orchestra: Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra
  • Conductor: Claudio Abbado
  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Audio CD (11 Feb. 1992)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B000001GFU
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,040 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

ABBADO CLAUDIO / WIENER P. O.

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By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Jan. 2015
Format: Audio CD
Debussy's great Pelleas et Melisande is not really a music-drama, much less an opera, in any familiar sense. It is more a book sung rather than read. The text is prose - quite simple prose at that - and so far as I know it is lifted straight from Maeterlinck's play. The music is as continuous as Wagner without relying on Wagner's special device of Leitmotiv, sc musical phrases with specific associations. The vocal idiom is a kind of constant recitative, and it is innocent of anything we would normally call melody from start to finish. That, on my view of the work, is how it must be - when singing a prose text tunes would be out of place. Again, I can think of no opera or music-drama that makes its effect so completely in sound alone, indeed that is how I prefer it. There may be no tunes, but there is infinite `atmosphere' to this music. It does not even `illustrate' its text, it fuses with it to form a single indivisible unity. It is toweringly great music in my opinion, but it has no existence apart from the narrative of which it has become a part.

Maeterlinck belongs to the school of French writers normally called `symbolist', and indeed there is symbolism enough in his story to keep the literary criticism industry going for centuries. The story captured the attention of other great composers too. It drew from Sibelius some attractive but lightweight incidental music, and Schoenberg was moved, alas, to depict it in a tone-poem of excruciating length and turgidity. Debussy was born, it seems, to give this deep and disturbing story its true and worthy musical representation. It is a depthlessly sad story, but on one level it is a very realistic one.
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By A Customer on 27 Oct. 2003
Format: Audio CD
Enter Debussy's dreamscape of half spoken feelings, unfinished encounters and warmly explicit music, impressionistic in its feel (a musical version of the impressionist painters). The play of Pelleas and Melissande is put to music without any change to the words, without any repetition or choruses, the words are half sung, half spoken. There seems to be no clear time line, no point to some of the confrontations. The listeners imagination is engaged at all times to understand what is really taking place. The music of course tells us what the characters do not. Warmly recommeded recording of Debussy's only completed opera.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IMMENSE 17 Dec. 2013
By Leo Marillier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
IMMENSE. I love how Abbado builds the mood around the singers. Wonderful sonics that make you fully appreciate the woven textures of Debussy's masterpiece. Gorgeous package. One of the most beautiful music sets!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning "Pelleas", performance, recording 20 Dec. 2011
By jt52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I approached this Claudio Abbado-led performance of Claude Debussy's only opera "Pelleas et Melisande" prejudiced by certain negative comments about the singing. Happily, I thought the singing was for the most part excellent and it is strengthened by some truly great orchestral playing and sound that is miraculous (audiophile alert - you will want to hear this disc even if you don't like Pelleas or Debussy or whatever - trust me). In short, this is simply a great recording of a work that is difficult for performers and listeners alike.

"Pelleas et Melisande" is a difficult opera because Debussy uses little repetition and few obvious melodic hooks. There are "leitmotifs" (to summarize, short melodic capsules often associated with events, characters or ideas) but they rise to prominence briefly and then are buried in the texture when they return. It takes place in a magic garden, a neurasthenic princess at the center of a romantic triangle. The final scene, a slipping off into the abyss, is an astounding conception that is unique and is performed just beautifully by Abbado and his orchestra.

Each of the three leads is in my opinion very good. The best of them is Jose van Dam as Golaud, who has never sounded better. Francois Le Roux is a strong Pelleas, with a light tenor. As Melisande, Maria Ewing takes a more dramatic approach, which emphasizes diction and drama rather than pure musicality. That said, she can be vocally very pure, for example in her deathbed scene in Act V (disc 2, track 16). The accompanying parts are weaker and are probably the only downside of this CD. Christa Ludwig, as Genevieve, is one of the great opera singers ever, but at age 54, she no longer had the vocal precision and range to shine. I also found bass Jean-Philippe Courtis to be inexpressive and unable to navigate the notes flexibly in the role of Arkel. But generally, the singing is strong.

I have always been a fan of Claudio Abbado's approach to Debussy and Ravel but this is a new highlight for the esteemed conductor in this repertory. You wouldn't think the Vienna Philharmonic could play this repertory well, but they play with utmost delicacy and a pervasive beauty of tone. I'd describe this is velvety Debussy rather than precise Debussy. As I enthused above, the recording sonics are just remarkable, marking exceptional work by the DG engineers.

I very, very much enjoyed this release.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ephemeral raindrops in the forest 12 Jan. 2012
By dv_forever - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is a heavenly piece of music and deserves the most committed performance. I believe it to be Debussy's greatest masterpiece. You would think that a more French sound would be the most appropriate but when one has the Vienna Philharmonic at his command, why accept any lesser substitutes? I think this is one of Abbado's greatest recorded accomplishments. Abbado has never been very apt at German repertoire. But his adventures into French and Russian music yielded many rewards.

This performance is a perfect middle ground between the cool modern approach of Boulez and the luxurious high-romanticism of Karajan. But that's not to say that Abbado is simply a middle ground, he is inspired in his own way and his cast of singers is among the strongest in the last several decades. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is as good as it gets while DG gives the perfect aural backdrop to the proceedings. One of Abbado's strongest recordings and a must for lovers of Pelleas and Melisande.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing recording: very good but not quite totally outstanding due to Ewing's "histrionics" 6 Nov. 2010
By Alexander Z. Damyanovich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Having finally heard this recording in full, I have to say that it's not by any means one to be dismissed; however, neither is it an unqualified success when comparing it with Ansermet's (second, stereophonic in 1964) and Karajan's readings. On the plus side, one marvels at the urgency and conciseness Abbado brings to this score, coupled with utterly SUPERB and totally-committed playing by the Vienna Philharmonic. [The Viennese truly show their absolute greatness and (like their Berlin rivals under Karajan) leave all the properly-French orchestras (including Ansermet's Orchestre de la Suisse Romande) so far behind that those latter have no chance to make any impact either technically or idiomatically the moment any comparison comes up!!!] Furthermore: if Ansermet brings out the work's poetry and makes the best case overall for the French viewpoint, and if Karajan blends both drama and poetry while bringing in an unmistakably German viewpoint as well as a slight bias in dynamics, Abbado brings what perhaps is best defined as Italian flair (notably for drama, even if he changes a few things in the score {note the interlude between Scenes 1 & 2 of Act II just after 35:45 - the entries of the Oboes and Clarinets are his, NOT Debussy's!!! - also note the addition of the kettledrums on the chords immediately preceding Golaud's entry in Act III at 65:58!!!!}) and robust refinement which allows many of Debussy's gestures - which can seem false and frivolous in others' hands - to make perfect sense both musically and dramatically. In fact (on the downside), sometimes the intensity almost becomes excessive: at the moment when Golaud says "Je crois que Pelléas est fou!" to Yniold in Act III, Scene 4, it becomes scary!!! This forward rush to boot doesn't allow the Stygian odour of putrefaction and menace of Act III, Scene 2, to make its full impact, notably at the opening at 69:30 - here I definitely miss Ansermet's atmosphere.

As to the singers: that's almost always a MOST DIFFICULT task to review for the most part. To my tastes, Ansermet has the best Mélisande (Erna Spoorenberg) I've ever heard, the best Doctor (John Shirley-Quirk), and finally George London likewise being the best Golaud - AND a most menacing Golaud to boot (he might have been better-suited to either of the Karajan or Abbado recordings in that rôle if he had lived longer). [José van Dam takes that last rôle for both Karajan and Abbado most admirably, though I definitely like George London (for Ansermet) best: when that last-named gets angry, then later remorseful and despondent, he really wrenches your heart!!] Curiously, it's Maria Ewing that's the weak link in Abbado's recording: much as she for the most part is restrained from her "histrionics" by dint of what the work and the rôle of Mélisande entail, some of her most-UNMUSICAL and BAD-TASTE mannerisms are still there (very likely she's doing those things in order to conceal some defect in her voice, apparently her fast-ish vibrato), which most certainly costs this recording almost a complete star in my opinion (though here I have to admit that she's much better compared to what she yielded for Chung in Shostakóvich's "Lady Macbeth of Mcjénsk District")!! [If I were a conductor, I would NEVER, EVER hire her for anything as long as she keeps those tricks - once she STOPS with them, one could perhaps reconsider - it seems to relate to an excessively-fast vibrato on her part...]

All the others are more than fine: I enjoy particularly François Le Roux's contribution - he seems to be the best Pelléas (mind you, Stilwell for Karajan and Maurane for Ansermet do their conductors proud likewise!!!). Jean-Philippe Courtis is a very fine Arkël (strange that it's also he who takes on the one-line rôle of the Shepherd, though he does no less well with it!!), though Karajan's Ruggero Raimondi is no slouch. On the other hand, Karajan has the best Yniold (Christine Barbaux) of the three recordings in question (though again Patrizia Pace comes extremely close, within a whisker of a tie - and both are far ahead of Rosine Brédy for Ansermet!!), and I also like that the Deutsche Oper choir for Karajan doesn't quite come in like "gangbusters" in Act I (both Ansermet and Abbado have their choristers start at the outset a bit too aggressively). Both Rudolf Mazzola and Christa Ludwig are amply OK in their subsidiary parts (the Doctor, Geneviève) without however being particularly superior or inferior to their counterparts.

One other thing I resent is where the break between CDs takes place and how it's done (in the midst of a kettledrum-roll around 72:28). One could have put that change without interrupting the music at either of 70:07 or 77:54, given Abbado's fast pacing. [One can't as readily do as much with Ansermet, while Karajan's reading requires three CDs...]

Overall, 4/5 (almost - but not quite - 4.5/5, even 5/5 at times). Definitely much stuff to study and even love in it (notably DGG's superb engineering in addition to what's already been mentioned, even if the Vienna Philharmonic is seated as if it were in the Wiener Staatsoper pit: strings in the middle, woodwinds plus French-Horns on the left, other brass and kettledrums on the right, remaining percussion on the left - a strange seating arrangement other than when in a pit - no matter, they play divinely!!); however, not without its pitfalls. For me, it's a toss-up between Ansermet and Karajan (depending on moods, with Karajan more often getting the nod) IF you want a more "Impressionistic", Gallic feel; if you want raw drama, then Abbado is your man.
41 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good, but... 14 Dec. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
If Boulez's laserdisc account (DG) didn't exist, I would probably say that Abbado's is the best account that I've heard. It is certainly very, very good -- lots of atmosphere and passion, and absolutely gorgeous playing from the Vienna Philharmonic. However, there are a lot of things Abbado does that does not necessarily benefit the music -- the syncopated chords (depicting the dying Melisande's faltering breath) in the beginning of Act V are smoothed over so that one hears them only as long sustained chords. A lot of orchestrational detail is lost in Abbado's generally "fat" conducting. And the recording has a little bit too much reverb (which doesn't help the already not-too-clear performance). The cast is quite divine -- Le Roux is a little bit too nasal sounding to me, but I quickly got used to him. Ewing's tone is just a tad bit too rich for my taste. I prefer Boulez's cast -- he has a more pure-toned Melisande (Alison Hagley) and a better characterized Pelleas (Neill Archer). And, of course, Boulez's clarity is the very opposite of Abbado's murk. Alas, I believe Boulez's performance (the one on laserdisc) is out of print. I don't like Boulez's first version (Sony) -- it's not as clear, and the cast is not at all good. If you really want a Pelleas now, you could do worse than purchasing this set (Karajan's recording is even more fat than this, and is to be avoided!). I hope DG decides to re-release Boulez's recording on CD. I love this opera a lot, but I must say that, despite Abbado's fine performance, I would still not purchase this set simply because I know that there are too many things in this incomparable score that Abbado misses.
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