Debussy: La Chute de la Maison Usher; Le Diable dans le beffroi

Reviewed on Fri 09 Sep, 2016

These performances are elegant and intelligent, with excellent orchestral sound, and beautifully sung throughout.

Debussy’s two Edgar Allan Poe operas were commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera of New York following the worldwide success of Pelléas et Mélisande, but he never completed either of them. Robert Orledge’s carefully studied reconstructions are brief but entirely convincing, and their orchestration is outstanding in sound. Usher is a gothic horror story, permeated with the gloom of the castle vaults in Pelléas throughout and psychologically gripping; its harmony is like that of Jeux and Gigues but more chromatically intense. Belfry, in marked contrast, is a comic vignette unlike any other Debussy you have ever heard, with a Devil who doesn’t sing but fiddles and whistles, and you wonder whether Debussy, whose influence from Wagner's Parsifal was apparent in Pelléas, had absorbed a lot of Die Meistersinger when he grappled with the frivolities of Belfry. These performances are elegant and intelligent, with excellent orchestral sound, and beautifully sung throughout. (You may want to read the original short stories before you listen!)
–Mark DeVoto