HumanitiesWeb.org - Claude Debussy - The Painterly Composer [Recommended Recordings]
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Site last updated
26 June, 2013

Claude Debussy
Recommended Recordings



"I love music passionately. And because I love it I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth, an open-air art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art. "

Celibidache Edition - Debussy, Ravel
(Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra; Sergiu Celibidache, conductor )
Box Set (three CDs and a bonus fourth CD of a rehearsal)

Debussy Rediscovered
(San Francisco Ballet Orchestra; Emil de Cou, conductor)
Here's a must-have for Debussy lovers. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra performs the world-premiere recordings of four fascinating works by Debussy and the first digital recording of his steamy, exotic "Six Epitaphes Antiques." The "new" premieres are all works that have been orchestrated by others, but don't let that stop you: these are still great recordings. The "Suite Bergamasque," with its famous "Clair de Lune" movement, is simply stunning.

Images, etc
(Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, conductor)
Pierre Boulez recorded all of Debussy's major orchestral works for Sony, and those generally excellent performances are still available at mid-price. Like so many conductors Boulez has mellowed somewhat with age--and unlike most conductors, he is the first to admit it. His earlier performances were characterized by an analytical clarity that some found fascinating and uniquely compelling, and which left others cold. These new versions preserve the precision of his earlier ones, but find room for an extra measure of warmth and flexibility. The result is stunning Debussy, and DG's sumptuous recording captures it all in panoramic sound. (review by David Hurwitz)

Pelleas & Melisande
(Leila Ben Sedira, Paul Cabanel, et al; Symphony Orchestra, Yvonne Gouverné Chorus; Roger Desormière, conductor)
Even seasoned operaphiles may not have heard of anybody on this recording. Made in wartime France, this first, complete Pelléas et Mélisande captures brief, shining moments among performers whose postwar careers were limited (conductor Roger Desormière, for one, had a stroke in the early 1950s). Yet anyone who loves the opera must have this recording, which has an unmistakable radiance. Heard in sound quality remarkably good for the 1950s, these performers--including instrumentalists--have such confidence and spontaneity that they often seem to be making up the opera on the spot. Also, the singers in the title roles, Jacques Jansen and Irene Joachim, sound appropriately otherworldly, as few do: he with his unusually high baritone, she with her girlish voice that also has an extra, mezzoish depth. Also, their command of the language and understanding of their roles have never been bettered. (review by David Patrick Stearns)

The Complete Works for Piano
(Walter Gieseking; Hessian Radio Orchestra Frankfurt; Kurt Schröder, conductor)
These classic performances belong in the collection of anyone who cares about Debussy's piano music. Walter Gieseking's career was a troubled one--his pandering to the Nazi party cast a shadow over his last years, but the greatest irony of all was that this German nationalist turned out to be the greatest exponent of French music of his era. His Debussy playing marries an effortlessly subtle control of the keyboard to a real sense of fantasy. The music truly shimmers in his hands, and despite the limited range of the mono recording, the ear quickly adjusts. This is, in short, one of those classic recordings that critics and music lovers have enjoyed for nearly 50 years. So should you. (review by David Hurwitz)

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