Various Artists(Deutsche Grammophon, 18 CDs)
Of the compilations released to mark the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy's birth this year, this is the most treasurable. As a survey of the music of perhaps of the greatest 20th-century composer it could hardly be bettered, especially within recordings from a single label, or rather, a single group of labels, for as well as Deutsche Grammophon recordings it also includes material from Philips and Decca, which are all now part of the Universal stable.
Many of these performances would rank among the finest Debussy recordings ever made. The piano music is wonderfully served; there's Krystian Zimerman's polished accounts of the two books of Préludes, Mitsuko Uchida's version of the Etudes, and the Kontarsky brothers' performances of the two-piano works. The smaller solo sets are covered by Zoltán Kocsis and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, whose jewel-like performances of Images and the Children's Corner Suite are among the greatest of all piano discs. The main orchestral works, from Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Faune onwards, are represented by the lucid recordings Pierre Boulez made with the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1990s, while Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, comes in Claudio Abbado's refined 1991 recording with Francois Le Roux and Maria Ewing in the title roles, and José van Dam as Golaud.
Not all the discs of songs and chamber music are on quite the same exalted level of performance. But you do have Martha Argerich partnering Mischa Maisky in the Cello Sonata and Maria-João Pires with Augustin Dumay in the violin one, while Ernest Ansermet conducts Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (just the symphonic fragments) and La Boite à Joujoux. To get the set at less than the cost of four full-price CDs is a wonderful bargain.
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