Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Decca historic
WORKS: Pelléas et Mélisande
PERFORMER: Suzanne Danco, Pierre Mollet, Heinz Rehfuss, André VessiéresSuisse Romande Orchestra/Ernest Ansermet
CATALOGUE NO: 425 965-2 ADD mono Reissue
If Claudio Abbado’s excellent recording of Debussy’s only opera this time last year was a superbly lucid and dramatically credible reading, then this is a version suffused with enchantment and disquiet. Mélisande’s sobs at the start of Act I when she first meets Golaud may sound real enough, but thenceforth the character, sublimely sung by Suzanne Danco, is both utterly bewitched and bewitching. There is an innocence and otherworldliness about her.

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Pierre Mollet’s Pelleas, however, sung as Debussy intended by a baryton-Martin, is altogether more real: his ardour tempered by trepidation and a sense of foreboding, which given Heinz Rehfuss’s increasingly intense and intimidating Golaud is wholly appropriate. By casting a German baritone against two native French-speakers, the character is instantly set apart by his accent. Though nationalism has nothing to do with it (this version was recorded in Geneva in 1952, a decade after Desormière’s harrowing account made in Paris during the Occupation), Rehfuss interprets the character very much as an outsider and a force to be feared. But despite the role’s innate brutality, he sings with real emotion — even poignancy — in the final penitent scene.

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As often, however, the real star of the opera is the orchestra. The sound quality may be far from flawless, but despite a certain thinness and occasionally strident brass, the Suisse Romande, with its shimmering strings and vivid woodwind, is brooding and inspiring. Claire Wrathall