Or­ches­tral works De­bussy spe­cial

Andrew Mcgre­gor com­pares two box sets of the com­poser’s com­plete works

BBC Music Magazine - - Debussy Special -

De­bussy The com­plete works Warner Clas­sics 9029573675 33 CDS Com­plete works Deutsche Gram­mophon 479 8642 22 CDS + 2 DVDS Here we have the com­plete works of Claude De­bussy twice – a box each from Warner Clas­sics and Deutsche Gram­mophon. These are the most com­pre­hen­sive of­fer­ings for De­bussy’s cen­te­nary, so what di­vides them, and why is one box big­ger than the other? My eyes and ears were drawn straight away by the Warner box, be­cause of the clas­sic record­ings made in the 1970s by con­duc­tor

Jean Marti­non and the Orchestre Na­tional de L’ORTF. Marti­non was part of a French per­form­ing tra­di­tion through his teach­ers Rous­sel and d’indy, and the orches­tra still sounds dis­tinctly ‘French’ with the tim­bres of the winds and horns, and gor­geous f lute so­los of Alain Mar­ion. Against which Deutsche Gram­mophon of­fers the clar­ity, ac­cu­racy and oh-so-beau­ti­fully paced ac­count of Jeux from Pierre Boulez in Cleve­land. A more in­ter­na­tional sound, but sum­ming up the mys­tery, new­ness and in­ge­nu­ity of De­bussy’s as­ton­ish­ing or­ches­tra­tions. Boulez vs Marti­non is no easy call, and Warn­ers also has Carlo Maria Gi­ulini’s clas­sic 1962 La Mer, more se­duc­tive seascapes than ei­ther Leonard Bern­stein or Her­bert von Kara­jan in the DG set.

Pi­ano mu­sic

Here Deutsche Gram­mophon looks like a run­away win­ner as there so many fine pi­anists from which to choose: Ar­turo Benedetti Michelan­geli, Jean-yves Thibaudet, Zoltán Koc­sis, Pierre-lau­rent Ai­mard, Mau­r­izio Pollini, while from the younger gen­er­a­tion there’s Rafa Blechacz, and most im­pres­sively SeongJin Cho, whose re­cent De­bussy recital has been gath­er­ing plau­dits from all quar­ters for its limpid clar­ity and sub­tle shad­ing of colour and dy­nam­ics. Warner fights back with Ai­mard’s ear­lier record­ings, and some other great De­bussyans: Aldo Cic­col­ini, Ce­cile Ous­set, Michel Béroff, the vet­eran Sam­son François, and De­bussy him­self, in his acous­tic 78s – sound­ing their age, but es­sen­tial doc­u­ments – and his pi­ano roll record­ings, with no sonic is­sues. In the duets Warner holds a cou­ple of aces: De­bussy’s tran­scrip­tions of other com­posers (and other com­posers of De­bussy), plus the great French duo of Geneviève Joy and Jac­que­line Robin-bon­neau, whose ac­count of En blanc et noir has su­perb drive and en­sem­ble.

Choral & song

Ah, the songs. Where to be­gin? It would take the rest of the page just to list the singers and pi­anists, so suf­fice it to say that both boxes of­fer great range and va­ri­ety. There’s more in­trigue around the choral mu­sic; both boxes have li­cenced the same record­ing of De­bussy’s Prix de Rome can­tatas The Gla­di­a­tor and The Prodi­gal Son, con­ducted by Hervé Ni­quet. But Warner has a first record­ing of Chan­son de brises, early De­bussy from 1882 for women’s voices and pi­ano duet, per­formed from an un­pub­lished proof: a de­light­ful dis­cov­ery.

Cham­ber mu­sic

Hon­ours equal here I think; Warn­ers has Renaud Capuçon and friends in their ex­cel­lent re­cent Erato record­ing, and the su­perb Ebène Quar­tet, while DG has the Emer­sons at their best, and vi­o­lin­ist Anne-so­phie Mut­ter and pi­anist Lam­bert Orkis in the Vi­o­lin Sonata – in­tensely re­ward­ing. Sadly Ye­hudi Menuhin and Jac­ques Février for Warn­ers are no com­pe­ti­tion.


DG seems to have this one in the bag, with two fine ac­counts of Pel­léas et Mélisande: Clau­dio Ab­bado’s Vi­enna record­ing on CD with so­prano Maria Ewing and bari­tone François le Roux, more vis­ceral than Pierre Boulez filmed on DVD at Welsh Na­tional Opera with Ali­son Ha­gley and

Neill Archer, clear and in­ti­mate. Both su­pe­rior to Ar­min Jor­dan for Warn­ers, but their trump card is another opera: De­bussy’s three act Ro­drigue et Chimène, a ver­sion of El Cid he aban­doned to work on Pel­léas. Kent Nagano’s Lyon Opera record­ing of the com­ple­tion is more than a cu­rios­ity, and def­i­nitely worth in­clud­ing – another rea­son there are more CDS in the Warner set, a whole ex­tra opera. There are also those his­toric De­bussy record­ings on the last disc in the set (in­clud­ing De­bussy ac­com­pa­ny­ing his orig­i­nal Mélisande, so­prano Mary Gar­den – two min­utes of tan­ta­lis­ing time travel).

The ver­dict

It’s not sim­ple, is it? Deutsche Gram­mophon seems more at­trac­tive at first glance for the mod­ern in­ter­preters and record­ing qual­ity, from Boulez to all those pi­anists, plus Pel­léas on CD and DVD. They also in­clude all the sung texts and trans­la­tions which Warner Clas­sics doesn’t. But that’s where you’ll find the ex­tras: the world pre­miere, the ar­range­ments, the un­fin­ished opera and more clas­sic and his­toric record­ings. One thing’s for sure: in­vest in ei­ther set, and you’ll be able to spend many hours re­mind­ing your­self of the in­ge­nu­ity and orig­i­nal­ity of De­bussy, one of the great­est of French com­posers.

Seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion: De­bussy be­side the River Marne in 1895

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