‘Exhaustive, the sum of the crème de la crème of the discography... No richer panorama exists for the melodies (the complete EMI recordings alongside never-before-released treasures unearthed by Denis Herlin for Ligia), the chicest Enfant prodigue (Alagna, Gauvin and Lapointe!), the only complete Martyre de saint Sébastien (Véra Korène in the title-role and Cluytens at the podium), the sole Rodrigue et Chimène in the discography (revived by Nagano), the cantatas for the Prix de Rome that made Hervé Niquet’s reputation, piles of transcriptions for piano and orchestra…’
On 25 March 2018, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy, the most influential and beloved of all French composers, widely considered one of the fathers of modern music. Warner Classics’ new 33-CD box set, to be released in January, stands as the first and only complete collection of recordings of Debussy’s music. It comprises all his known works, including six pieces in world-premiere recordings made especially for this edition. Compiled in collaboration with renowned Debussy expert Denis Herlin (Editor-in-Chief of the complete critical edition of Debussy’s music for Durand, the composer’s publisher), Debussy: The Complete Works comprises recordings carefully chosen for their artistic quality and their authenticity of spirit, with the invaluable addition of a bonus album of recordings made by Debussy himself – he was a superb pianist. Other superb musicians featured in this collection include Martha Argerich, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin, Daniel Barenboim, Kent Nagano, Sir Simon Rattle, and the crème de la crème of the French school, from Aldo Ciccolini, Samson François and Gérard Souzay to Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Philippe Jaroussky, Roberto Alagna, Natalie Dessay and Quatuor Ebène.
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This complete edition brings together all Debussy’s known works. The one work that is not currently available is the orchestral version of an Intermezzo composed in June 1882. However, it is possible to form an idea of how this might have sounded thanks to Debussy’s own transcription of the piece for piano duet (7/5). The following works can be heard here in premiere recordings:
- the Chanson des brises (1882) for soprano solo, female chorus and piano four-hands (24/12), the complete manuscript of which has recently come to light;
- the first version (1898) of the two Chansons de Chansons de Charles d’Orléans (25/5-6);
- Diane au bois (1885-87), a “comédie lyrique” for soprano, tenor and piano (26/1);
- the beginning of La Chute de la maison Usher, as it was when Debussy set the work aside in 1916 (30/6-15);
To this group of works, we have added the piano reductions of Khamma (4/13) – whose orchestration was mainly the work of Koechlin – and of Jeux (4/14), both of which provided the basis on which the choreography of the two ballets was devised. Moreover, some of Debussy’s transcriptions from the 1890s have never been recorded until now:
- À la fontaine, an arrangement for piano solo of Am Springbrunnen from Schumann’s Op.85 set of piano duets (6/9);
- Humoresque en forme de valse, an arrangement for piano solo of Raff’s Humoreske in Walzerform, op.159, for piano duet (6/10);
- Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.2 and Airs d’Étienne Marcel, arranged for two pianos, four hands (11/8-18);
In addition to the above, we have included several arrangements of Debussy’s works made by composers with whom he was on friendly terms. The complete edition contains all the transcriptions by André Caplet (for piano solo, two pianos and orchestrations), even those carried out after Debussy’s death. Caplet’s orchestrations of two of the Ariettes oubliées (22/13-14) are recorded here for the first time. Most of Caplet’s transcriptions received Debussy’s seal of approval, and the composer conducted the orchestral version of Children’s Corner (18/14-19) on several occasions and took part in performances of the two-piano version of Ibéria (10/5-7). The same applies to the arrangements made by Henri Busser, Jean Roger-Ducasse, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht and Bernardino Molinari. Ravel’s transcriptions and orchestrations are testimony to his admiration for Debussy. Finally, it is worth noting that Debussy was on good terms with the violinist Arthur Hartmann and transcribed Minstrels, one of the piano Préludes, for his friend. The two men played the piece together at a concert on 5 February 1914, alongside two arrangements that Hartmann had made with the composer’s consent: another of the Préludes, La fille aux cheveux de lin, and the second of the Ariettes oubliées (13/15), Il pleure dans mon cœur (13/14). Finally, this set features the only known acoustic recording of Debussy accompanying Mary Garden (33/15-18), made in February 1904 for the French Gramophone Company, as well as piano rolls of fourteen pieces made using the Welte-Mignon system and probably recorded by the composer in November 1913 (33/1-14).
Hearing Debussy play his own music, even via the old school player piano, is a fitting way to celebrate a singular artist whose influence and inspiration are still very much alive.
NPR Deceptive Cadence