Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s play, Debussy’s opera, first-performed 1902, and Schoenberg’s symphonic poem (his Opus 5) premiered in 1905.
For the Debussy, Jonathan Nott has compiled (and copyrighted) a continuous forty-seven-minute sequence using the opera’s interludes and, where voices are involved, assigning vocal lines to instruments. It’s a great success, seamless, whether the passages that Debussy wrote as orchestral links or those that Nott has arranged (with much love and skill), all-belonging, music that is rapturous and atmospheric, as well as suggestive, with drama just below the surface (sometimes rising above it, with emotional impact), of a dark clandestine world in which the characters now converse through sound. Compelling listening.
The Schoenberg is equally fine, a lush, romantic performance spaciously conceived (forty-two minutes), flexible too, full of musical and dramatic incident – even if you didn’t know the music’s background, it radiates all manner of descriptions – a score that attracted Barbirolli and Karajan into the studio (Nott very much their equal) and which usually rewards time spent with it; it certainly does here.
The Suisse Romande Orchestra plays beautifully, sensitively and agilely for its music director, the players at-one with the works’ ebb, flow and (Debussy) luminosity – details and instrumental interplay abound (violins are tellingly antiphonal) – as well as respective story-telling powers. There may be no singers in Pelléas but there is no lack of expression and potency, and these qualities are brimming in the Schoenberg (dining at Wagner’s table if on the verge of opening his own school). The recorded sound is outstandingly dynamic and defined (another audiophile triumph from Geneva’s Victoria Hall, 6/2019 & 11/2020 – reminding of all those wonderful Ansermet Decca LPs, now CDs) and completes a very distinguished release on Pentatone PTC 5186 782 [2 SACDs].