Classical Reissue Reviews
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande = Suzanne Danco/ Oda Slobodskaya/Henri-Bertrand Etcheverry/ Camille Maurane/ André Vessières/ BBC Chorus/ Philharmonia Orch./ Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht – Testament (3 CDs)
Published on December 30, 2013
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande = Suzanne Danco/ Oda Slobodskaya/Henri-Bertrand Etcheverry/ Camille Maurane/ André Vessières/ BBC Chorus/ Philharmonia Orch./ Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht – Testament SBT31484 (3 CDs), TT: 2:47:67 [1/8/13] [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ***:
Testament’s issue of a June 1951, BBC broadcast of Debussy’s profoundly influential opera Pelléas et Mélisande conducted by the composer’s friend and colleague Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht is actually not a reissue per se but a first appearance on any commercial media and perhaps on any media at all, of a performance which over the years has taken on a mythical quality.
Although it is not a revelatory bombshell in any manner, shape or form, it does provide a touchstone for mid century Pelléas performance practice; its main features are Inghelbrecht’s affectionate, comprehensively authoritative performance, the lovely light-voiced Mélisande of Suzanne Danco, the sterling Pelléas of Camille Maurane, buttressed by an outstanding Arkel from André Vessières and an affecting Golaud of Henri- Bertrand Etcheverry, despite being near the end of his career.
There are two disappointments: 70-year old Oda Slobodskaya, sounding her age, as Geneviève, and Marjorie Westbury as Yniold (“a singer maybe, an actress first and foremost,” Jean-Charles Hoffelé drily comments in his absorbing essay), although it is worth noting that Inghelbrecht insisted on keeping in Yniold’s often cut scene with the sheep, “Oh! Cette pierre est lourde…”.
Oddly enough, in 1950, Debussy’s music still had little effect on English composers but because of the the English literary and visual arts sets, among whom Debussy was wildly popular, there was a lot of support for making him well-known. In fact the two performances during the week were part of an attempt to widen interest further in Pelléas specifically, climaxing a week on BBC Three devoted to “the impressionist and symbolic schools of which Pelléas was a result.”
No libretto, of course, but good liner notes about the opera and the curious set of circumstances which brought the project about and enlisted the Philharmonia Orchestra (which is unfortunately placed too much in the rear).