A Singer’s Notes 42 – Listening to Pelléas: the Classic 1941 Recording under Désormières as reissued by Andante, EMI, and Pristine Classical

Very few recordings really deserve to be called iconic, but the 1941 recording of Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Roger Désormière, is one. Native speakers are part of its excellence. There is a kind of lightness in the orchestral textures which is usually thought of as French, but this aspect of the recording is frequently overstated. A direction in the conducting which keeps the pace nearly conversational is fundamental. Newer recordings of Pelléas are almost all slower, even much slower. This, like the first Böhm Frau ohne Schatten is a recording surrounded by war- and both have the atmosphere of artists striving to give their native musical cultures a permanence, when permanence is mortally threatened. It is a beautiful thing that in a culture surrounded and eventually occupied by horror, these artists have given us the version of Pelléas which is the most French.

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