WORKS: Pelléas et Mélisande (plus excerpts)
PERFORMER: Jacques Jansen, Irène Joachim, Alfred Maguenat, Marthe Nespoulos; Yvonne Gouverné Choir, orchestra/Roger Désormière, Georges Truc, Piero Coppola
CATALOGUE NO: 3990 AAD mono Reissue (1927-41)
Doubly historic, doubly valuable. This is not only the first ever recording of Pelléas, made when performances supervised by Debussy himself were a living memory and tradition. It was also recorded in 1941, in German-occupied Paris (and with a Mélisande of Jewish descent), as a sort of defiant gesture of faith in French culture. The répétiteur at the first performance and the first Mélisande herself, Mary Garden, were on hand to coach the cast through painstaking rehearsals. Despite the inexperience and youth of the principals (the touchingly earnest Irène Joachim and the shy but ardent Jacques Jansen were still in their twenties) the result was inspired and the recording ideally sympathetic to the voices.
This beautifully remastered reissue adds the most important extended extracts from Pelléas recorded before 1941, so Henri Etcheverry’s formidable, then heartbreakingly pitiful Golaud can be compared with the creator of the role, Dufranne, and his most famous successor, Vanni-Marcoux. He does not fail the test; nor do any of the others. The complete four-disc set adds up to an invaluable lesson in the art of singing French music and enunciating the French language: words are crystal clear, even in the earliest recordings here. There is little conventional acting, but an extreme subtlety of vocal expression and verbal colour. Above all the drama is intimate, and the sufferings and brief raptures of these characters are very close to you. Whatever modern recording is in your collection this should be alongside it. You will probably play it more often. Michael Oliver