OP0231. PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE (Debussy), w.Boulez Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; George Shirley, Elisabeth Söderström, Donald McIntyre, David Ward, Yvonne Minton, etc. (Japan) 3-Sony 73DC323 325, w.44pp. Booklet, all in Japanese. Outstanding sound quality! Very Long out-of-print, Final ever-so-slightly used copy!
“The power and beauty of this set is the luminosity of the orchestral playing. Boulez stated that ‘to reduce the score to an accompanied recitative is conspicuously to betray it’. Boulez has produced an inspired performance from the musical forces he was working with. Under Boulez's inspired direction, the music glows and pulsates with everchanging colour and life. Indeed, the score is shown in its miriad colours and this is a performance both flexible and shapely. This is a most distinguished reading of the score. The voices are all top notch too. Elisabeth Söderström is beautifully in control throughout. Donald McIntyre, as Golaud, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance. However, in the final analysis it is Boulez who must receive the loudest applause. This must be one of the best sets available. There are no weaknesses in the performance and the recorded sound is first class. Boulez's recording stresses that very quality of translucence: his clean lines and flowing direction do not preclude his embracing the voluptuousness of the key emotive moments; instead of being cold and brusque as he is sometimes accused of being, he treats the score like Richard Strauss then returns to forensic clarity.
Söderström has the right pure, ethereal, tremulous quality; Shirley's dark, smoky timbre is very attractive and his French is first class; McIntyre is in superb voice even if he is rather too sonorous and heroic in the Wotan mode, but he is suitably anguished and confused; Yvonne Minton's firm, rounded mezzo is ideal as Geneviève and David Ward's grave, noble bass embodies the gentle personality of the blind old king Arkel. I have no idea why the treble, Anthony Britten, who makes a really touching Yniold and sings in unimpeachable French, is credited as a countertenor but he's perfect in the role. The Royal Opera House choir and orchestra sing and play respectively really beautifully. The sound is first rate.”
- Ralph Moore
“’Audacity, innovation, creativity — that is what Pierre Boulez was for French music, which he helped shine everywhere in the world’.
Mr. Boulez belonged to an extraordinary generation of European composers who emerged in the postwar years while still in their 20s. They started a revolution in music, and Mr. Boulez was in the front ranks.
But his influence was equally large on the podium. In time he began giving ever more attention to conducting, where his keen ear and rhythmic incisiveness could produce a startling clarity. (There are countless stories of him detecting faulty intonation, say, from the third oboe in a complex piece.) He reached his peak as a conductor in the 1960s, when he began to appear with some of the world’s great orchestras, like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. By the early ’70s, he had succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, an appointment that startled the music world and led to a fitful tenure. It was his reputation as an avant-garde composer and as a champion of new music that prompted his unexpected appointment in New York. After the initial shock at his arrival, there was hope that he might bring the orchestra into the 20th century and appeal to younger audiences. But his programming often met with hostility in New York, and he left quietly six years later. ‘I had to learn about that music, to find out how it was made’, he once told OPERA NEWS. ‘It was a revelation - a music for our time, a language with unlimited possibilities. No other language was possible. It was the most radical revolution since Monteverdi. Suddenly, all our familiar notions were abolished. Music moved out of the world of Newton and into the world of Einstein’. To start on this route, he took lessons in 1945-46 with René Leibowitz, a Schönbergian who had settled in Paris. Soon he was integrating what had been separate paths of development in the music of the previous 40 years: Schönberg’s serialism, Stravinsky’s rhythmic innovations and Messiaen’s enlarged notion of mode. As Mr. Boulez saw it, all these composers had failed to pursue their most radical impulses, and it fell to a new generation - specifically, to him - to pick up the torch.
‘He never ceased to think about subjects in relation to one another; he made painting, poetry, architecture, cinema and music communicate with each other, always in the service of a more humane society’, the office of President François Hollande said in a statement. Even so, the achievements embodied in his published works and recordings are formidable, and his influence was incalculable. The tasks he took on were heroic: to continue the great adventure of musical modernism, and to carry with him the great musical institutions and the widest possible audience.”
- Paul Griffiths, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 Jan., 2016
“[Söderström] was a fine musician and a complete artist combining a fine voice with secure dramatic instincts. Her varied talents permitted her to embrace a very wide-ranging repertoire. Always intellectually curious, she developed a masterful sense of words, all of which made her interpretations exciting and vivid. She was a gifted concert recitalist.”
- Richard T. Soper, NORDIC VOICES
"Elisabeth Söderström, the Swedish soprano acclaimed for the plangent richness and intelligence of her singing and for her wide-ranging repertory, including influential portrayals of leading roles in the operas of Janácek, was admired by opera lovers around the world, notably in Sweden and England, where she performed most often, within the field she was revered. With her radiant, creamy voice, thorough musicianship and keen dramatic instincts, she was a model for singers. In roles like the Countess in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO the Marschallin in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN and more, she combined insightful acting with nuanced singing and a lovely stage presence to create alluring and memorable performances. An element of Scandinavian reserve in her dramatic and vocal artistry enhanced her work, lending an elusive quality to her portrayals. Reviewing a song recital that Ms Söderström gave at the Frick Collection in New York in 1975, the NEW YORKER critic Andrew Porter perceptively summed up her artistry. Her ‘quick musical intelligence, her vivid and engaging temperament, and a protean voice not exceptionally powerful but well able to compass soubrette mirth and tragic passion have brought her triumphs in a wide variety of roles’.
Anna Elisabeth Söderström made her début as Mozart’s Bastienne when she was just 20 at the Drottningholm Court Theater, on the outskirts of the city, a company she would direct in the mid-1990s. Shortly after her début, she joined the Swedish Royal Opera. She remained a member of that company until her retirement. In her early years she focused on soubrette roles, including Mozart heroines. Soon she was branching out dramatically. Her début at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival in England came in 1957 as the Composer in Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, and for years she remained a favorite with the festival. Among Strauss singers, she was one of the few to have sung all three lead rôles in DER ROSENKAVALIER: the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. A milestone in her career came in the 1969-70 season with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, when she sang Mélisande in an acclaimed production of Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE conducted by Pierre Boulez, subsequently recorded. That Sony Classical recording, with George Shirley as Pelléas, is considered by many to be definitive.
Another series of landmark performances and recordings involved the Australian conductor Charles Mackerras, an informed champion of the Janácek operas. Ms Söderström became Mr Mackerras’ soprano of choice for his Decca label recordings of complete Janácek operas, including JENUFA and KATYA KABANOVA, with Ms Söderström singing the title roles, and THE MAKROPULOS CASE, a mysterious, haunting work in which Ms Söderström portrayed, unforgettably, the 300-year-old Emilia Marty.
Among the many contemporary roles she sang were Elisabeth Zimmer in Hans Werner Henze’s ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS and Juliana Bordereau in Dominick Argento’s ASPERN PAPERS for the premiere production in Dallas in 1988. She was also an active song recitalist.
Ms Söderström made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO. For the next five years, she made regular appearances at the Met, but then drifted mostly to Europe, returning in the 1980s for performances as the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Countess in NOZZE DI FIGARO. For her last Met performances, she came out of retirement, essentially, to sing the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, a dramatically complex and crucial role with scant vocal demands. She received an enormous ovation."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 2009