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Thread: Pelléas et milandie - Haitink or Rattle

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    Default Pelléas et milandie - Haitink or Rattle

    Which one should I buy? The Haitink with the French national orchestra is available to me at a good price, but I do really like what I’ve heard of the recent rattle LSO recording, hence the toss up. Thanks all.

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    Senior Member Rogerx's Avatar
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    Claudio Abbado- Ernest Ansermet-Herbert von Karajan would be my first choice.
    Theatre, a forum for public debate, an arena for cathartic spectacle and somewhere for vain bitchy people to show off in front of big crowds!

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    Senior Member WildThing's Avatar
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    I second the Abbado and the Ansermet. Désormière's 1941 recording is a classic if you don't mind the historic sound.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by juliante View Post
    Which one should I buy? The Haitink with the French national orchestra is available to me at a good price, but I do really like what I’ve heard of the recent rattle LSO recording, hence the toss up. Thanks all.
    Between those two, I'd choose the Rattle. Better cast, better sound. I found the Haitink rather characterless.

    There are lots of other choices, though, as others have mentioned - Abbado, Desormiere, and the earlier Ansermet are also essential.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rogerx View Post
    Claudio Abbado- Ernest Ansermet-Herbert von Karajan would be my first choice.
    That must have been a contentious collaboration.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    I found the Haitink rather characterless.
    Evergreen comment.

    to add a little content and not just snark--I'd also recommend the Gui 1963 and the Inghelbrecht 1962. They're both live recordings, the Gui is mono, Inghelbrecht stereo. Along with the Desormiere, they're my current favorites.
    Last edited by howlingfantods; Nov-23-2018 at 20:14.

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Hello Juliante. This thread talks about ghe forum's favourite recordings of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. I don't really like Kozena in the Rattle set but the playing and SQ is one of the most wonderful in discography.

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    Yes it’s the sound of the orchestra in rattle that draws me. What’s SQ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by WildThing View Post
    I second the Abbado and the Ansermet. Désormière's 1941 recording is a classic if you don't mind the historic sound.
    Unfortunately I completely mind historic sound - I find myself unable to be immersed. Is the Ansermet sound ok?

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    Senior Member WildThing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by juliante View Post
    Unfortunately I completely mind historic sound - I find myself unable to be immersed. Is the Ansermet sound ok?
    The first Ansermet recording is in decent mono sound, and has the better cast than his second recording by most standards. His stereo remake is excellent sound, although George London's Goulad is a detraction and a distraction for most listeners. Although Robert Levine seems to like this second set more than most here, and calls it "haunting" in his review.
    Last edited by WildThing; Nov-23-2018 at 23:29.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post
    Hello Juliante. This thread talks about ghe forum's favourite recordings of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. I don't really like Kozena in the Rattle set but the playing and SQ is one of the most wonderful in discography.
    And thanks - very helpful thread link. Will give the 1970 Boulez a go (sound should be fine...?

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    Quote Originally Posted by WildThing View Post
    The first Ansermet recording is in decent mono sound, and has the better cast than his second recording by most standards. His stereo remake is excellent sound, although George London's Goulad is a detraction and a distraction for most listeners. Although Robert Levine seems to like this second set more than most here, and calls it "haunting" in his review.
    Ok thanks I’ll give it a go then

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    I've been resisting the Rattle recording so far, & haven't heard it, but I wouldn't rate Haitink's Pelleas et Melisande as among the best versions I know of this opera (& Debussy is one of my favorite composers, so I've heard a fair number of recordings). Although it did receive glowing reviews from the British rags when it came out (as did Rattle's). One British critic even wrote that it's one of the finest conducted versions on record. I also recall reading that members of the French National Orchestra considered the experience to be one of the highlights of their lives. Which causes me to wonder how many other versions of the opera could they have heard? or was the live production more interesting than what Haitink ultimately recorded?--a possibility. Personally, I don't find the Haitink recording has that kind of depth, & was even a tad disappointed by it. To my ears, the conducting is slightly bland & under characterized.

    Don't get me wrong, I think Haitink is a very fine, dependable conductor, who pays scrupulous attention to the score. But he's not always the most exciting or interesting conductor on record. On occasion he can be--such as in the music of Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, & Tchaikovsky--but I haven't found him to be as consistent in the music of Debussy (& Ravel), despite that he has a good reputation in this music. Indeed, over the years, I've seldom completely agreed with the British critics on Haitink's Debussy (although I do agree that his La Mer & Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun are very good). For example, they raved about Haitink's LP of Debussy's Trois Nocturnes and Jeux for Philips, giving it a Gramophone orchestral award in 1980 (& a rosette or at least three stars in the Penguin Guide); but I didn't find it to be among the better recordings I've heard of either work. Here's what Gramophone wrote,

    "Bernard Haitink is marvellously responsive to Debussy's ever-shifting colours and his subtle textures. His account of the Nocturnes is remarkable in its combination of sensuous richness, purity, delicate precision, cool beauty and exhilarating energy..."

    I'd say that's a fair, accurate description, & one that holds true for Haitink's conducting of Pelleas et Melisande as well, except for the bit about "exhilarating energy"--which doesn't strike me as quite right, at least not for the third Sirènes movement. Nor would I describe Haitink's conducting of Pelleas as potent with "exhilarating energy" either (if anything it's understated), but the rest is probably true.

    To my ears, Haitink strictly beautifies the Sirens song in the 3rd movement. He sees no duality in the music--no understanding that these vengeful, feminine creatures of the underworld have another side to them apart from the pure seductive beauty of their song. Haitink hears only the beauty (like many men). In contrast, Charles Dutoit brings out the occasional shrillness in the music, which to my mind expresses an additional sense of anger and impending violence and destruction. Haitink misses that in Debussy's score. But it isn't missed on Dutoit, who, like Debussy, apparently has more experience on the isle of sirens than Haitink.

    Similarly, I'd say that Haitink misses some of the emotional undercurrents in Debussy's opera too. Again, he tends to beautify the music. I'd suggest that you listen to the beginning of the opera, as I find most conductors don't get the human feeling in the music at the opening, & Haitink is no exception. If you compare Haitink to Abbado, for example, I expect you'll find that Abbado & the VPO more strongly characterize the music here. Serge Baudo does even better. The same is true for the older versions by Ansermet, Cluytens, Inghelbrecht, and more recently, on digital DVD, Boulez too (though I've not heard Boulez's earlier CBS/Sony recording). On the other hand, Dutoit's interpretation of Pelleas is cooler and more precisely conducted (there's even a sense of emotional detachment), which makes for an interesting alternative view of the score; though I wouldn't consider Dutoit's Pelleas as a first or second choice here--unlike his Nocturnes (which are more perceptive, in my estimation).

    Do I expect that Rattle does any better than Haitink? Probably not. Personally, I find Rattle somewhat overrated myself. He's certainly a good conductor, but I don't find myself reaching for his recordings all that often (even in French music, where he can be good). I tend to prefer others, and sometimes can even find Rattle a bit clueless, interpretatively (such as with his recent Berlin Sibelius cycle). In addition, I would most likely prefer Anne Sofie von Otter's Melisande (with Haitink) to Magdalena Kozena's, as I've long admired von Otter in French music of this period (such as on the following CD, for instance: https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Sofie-vo...+bonne+chanson). However, admittedly, the LSO does have a long history of playing Debussy's orchestral music very well--for example, I've liked the Debussy they recorded with Abbado during his tenure there: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Damoi...+la+damoiselle ;as well as Michael Tilson Thomas' LSO Debussy series on Sony (especially their Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien), and the LSO's earlier Debussy recordings with Leopold Stokowski in the 1950s & 60s. So, from that standpoint, and considering the attractive advantage of hearing Debussy's score in audiophile hybrid SACD sound, Rattle's Pelleas may be worthwhile.

    As for Karajan's Debussy, I used to like it many years ago, during the LP era. The Berlin Philharmonic plays Debussy very well. However, I've come to see that the velvety string laden sound Karajan cultivated in Berlin isn't quite right for Debussy's music. He makes Debussy sound sensuously Wagnerian and I've come to see this music as more lithe, texturally transparent, & graceful than that. Debussy had classical leanings (despite the profround Gamelan and Asian influences on his musical aesthetic) than Karajan brings out. Indeed, Karajan paints Debussy as a post romantic, a more or less Brucknerian composer. The music becomes too thick, heavy and slow--that is, unless you like your Debussy to sound like Parsifal? So I don't listen to Karajan's Debussy anymore. I have no patience for it. In my opinion, there are many other more insightful Debussy conductors out there than Karajan, who don't see Debussy in purely Wagnerian or Germanic terms. Which, by the way, would have likely upset Erik Satie, who originally gave Debussy the idea for the opera; well, actually Satie talked about composing an anti-Wagnerian, distinctly French opera on Maeterlinck's Symbolist play himself, which Debussy evidently thought it was a very good idea, and beat him to it.

    In conclusion, I think you'll do better with Abbado's Pelleas et Melisande--if you must have digital sound, then either Haitink or Rattle's (though I reserve the right to change my mind about Rattle's, since I don't know the recording yet). You can buy Abbado's Pelleas individually, or in the following excellent Debussy box set on DG (where you'll get a lot more music for your money, if you're looking for a real bargain, that is, if you can find it at a reasonable price--I paid between $30-40 for the 33-CD set):

    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...ebussy-edition
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%.../dp/B000001GFU

    But the truth is you'll generally find better singers on the older Pelleas recordings, especially Victoria de los Angeles' Melisande for Cluytens, for example.

    Otherwise, if you're open to sampling from a bunch of Pelleas recordings, I'd suggest that you look into the 1950s & 60s recordings by Ansermet (both his 1952 mono:https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pelle...J099K4NGCP01BT, & 1962 stereo recordings--I only know Ansermet's 1962 version, which I like: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%.../dp/B00008JL7U ), Inghelbrecht (who was a friend of Debussy's), Fournet, and Cluytens (on Testament:https://www.amazon.com/Pelleas-Melis...uytens+debussy), at least if you don't mind the older sound (all of them can be heard on You Tube, I believe). Fournet's 1962 Philips recording is my 'sleeper' pick here, as it deserves to be better known: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pelle...ebussy+pelleas. (By the way, there's also a live 'pirate' recording of Fournet conducting Pelleas in Buenos Aires in 1962, with Victoria de los Angeles singing Melisande: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...ebussy+pelleas )

    I'd also suggest that you look into the 1978 Eurodisc recording by Serge Baudo--which is my top 'sleeper' pick, overall, as I find Baudo to be a very under-appreciated conductor in this repertoire, and his lesser known, but all French cast is very good (at least in comparison to more recent versions). And, as mentioned, I'd also recommend the early 1990s digital recording by Abbado in Vienna. Of the two I prefer Baudo's conducting, but it may be harder to find these days: I know RCA did reissue it, but that too may be out of print now.

    Then go back to sampling the Haitink and Rattle recordings to see what you think. I bet you'll hear the music differently at that point.

    I hope you'll find that I've been of some help.

    P.S. For what it's worth (if anyone's interested), the best Debussy conductors I've heard in recent decades are Charles Dutoit, Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Jean Fournet, and Serge Baudo. Michael Tilson Thomas can be good too, but I've found him more inconsistent. The same is true for Bernard Haitink & Andre Previn. Yan Pascal Tortelier and Armin Jordan are worthwhile, as well. While historically, I'd rate Ernst Bour, Leopold Stokowski, Andre Cluytens, Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht, Jean Fournet, Manuel Rosenthal, Pierre Monteux, & Charles Munch as the best Debussy conductors I've heard. Jean Martinon, Eugen Ormandy, and Ernst Ansermet can be good too, but I've found them less consistent (& besides, I prefer Martinon in the music of Ravel, where he really shines).
    Last edited by Josquin13; Nov-24-2018 at 03:41.

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    Since I can no longer edit my post above, I wanted to provide links to two more Pelleas recordings, which I've not heard myself, but you may want to consider. Although I did mention both conductors above, as formidable Debussy conductors:

    1. Armin Jordan, Orchestre National de l'Opera de Monte-Carlo--Jordan has the advantage of an all French cast:

    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...s-et-melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    His Pelleas has been recently reissued by Warner: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...dm_ws_sp_ps_dp, as it was the chosen Pelleas for their comprehensive "Debussy: The Complete Works" centenary box set: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Compl...complete+works

    2. Pierre Boulez, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (this must be OOP now, as it used to be an inexpensive bargain issue):

    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...s-et-melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    (Here too is a link to the Boulez DVD that I mentioned above: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    P.S. There's also a bargain Pelleas et Melisande on Naxos, conducted by Jean-Claude Casadesus (who's not the son of Gaby & Robert Casadesus, as I initially presumed). Casadesus was a student of Pierre Dervaux, Manuel Rosenthal, and Pierre Boulez, so he has the right pedigree for this music, but I don't recall being overly enthusiastic about this recording, which I heard only once around the time it came out. It's too long ago now to remember why, sorry.

    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...adesus+debussy

    I also neglected to provide a link to Inghelbrecht's recording on Testament: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Melis...echt+testament

    Finally, I didn't mention the legendary 1942 Roger Désormière EMI recording made in German occupied France during WW2, which I've never been as crazy about as others. Although for some it's the finest Pelleas et Melisande ever recorded, so you may want to consider it:

    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Desor...ger+desormiere
    https://www.amazon.com/Pelleas-Melis...ger+desormiere
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Desor...ger+desormiere

    That concludes my overview of available recordings.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Nov-24-2018 at 18:54.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Josquin13 View Post
    Since I can no longer edit my post above, I wanted to provide links to two more Pelleas recordings, which I've not heard myself, but you may want to consider. Although I did mention both conductors above, as formidable Debussy conductors:

    1. Armin Jordan, Orchestre National de l'Opera de Monte-Carlo--Jordan has the advantage of an all French cast:

    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...s-et-melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    His Pelleas has been recently reissued by Warner: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...dm_ws_sp_ps_dp, as it was the chosen Pelleas for their comprehensive "Debussy: The Complete Works" centenary box set: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Compl...complete+works

    2. Pierre Boulez, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (this must be OOP now, as it used to be an inexpensive bargain issue):

    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...s-et-melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    (Here too is a link to the Boulez DVD that I mentioned above: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...s+et+melisande

    P.S. There's also a bargain Pelleas et Melisande on Naxos, conducted by Jean-Claude Casadesus (who's not the son of Gaby & Robert Casadesus, as I initially presumed). Casadesus was a student of Pierre Dervaux, Manuel Rosenthal, and Pierre Boulez, so he has the right pedigree for this music, but I don't recall being overly enthusiastic about this recording, which I heard only once around the time it came out. It's too long ago now to remember why, sorry.

    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Pell%...adesus+debussy

    I also neglected to provide a link to Inghelbrecht's recording on Testament: https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Melis...echt+testament

    Finally, I didn't mention the legendary 1942 Roger Désormière EMI recording made in German occupied France during WW2, which I've never been as crazy about as others. Although for some it's the finest Pelleas et Melisande ever recorded, so you may want to consider it:

    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Desor...ger+desormiere
    https://www.amazon.com/Pelleas-Melis...ger+desormiere
    https://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Desor...ger+desormiere

    That concludes my overview of available recordings.
    Fantastic thanks, you’re not just a fan of early music are you!

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