Internationally renowned conductor and OV, Jonathan Nott (Br 71-81) has recently produced his own interpretation of Pelléas et Mélisande, drawing on the works of both Debussy and Schönberg, to critical acclaim.
Jonathan’s career has seen him conducting orchestras around the world, from the Berlin Philharmonic to the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, and he is currently the Musical and Artistic Director for the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR), with whom he produced the latest recording. Jonathan’s love and talent for music started from an early age: at King’s he was both a Scholar and a chorister, although he did also find some spare time to be a member of the Rowing squad. Following King’s, Jonathan proceeded to the University of Cambridge as a choral scholar.
Explaining his inspiration, Jonathan said, “Debussy’s Pelléas was really my favourite opera ever since I was at school. I had already hatched this plan to make a CD combining the two big Pelléas compositions of the German and French schools (the OSR has both a French and a German history). As we were in the middle of a COVID lockdown and my performances had all been cancelled this seemed like the ideal time to turn the plan into reality.
“I knew that the then available Debussy suite missed out lots of the Mélisande music I loved, and discovered that Debussy uses a sophisticated construction of Leitmotivs in this opera. So I had a go both at trying to “tell the story” in terms of these Leitmotivs and to parallel the through-composed symphonic structure of the Schönberg.
“However, that meant using orchestral music alone that was originally designed to be in dialogue with the sung line. Would that work? How to link together Debussy’s impressionistic music so that one could ‘follow the drama’ in its circular dramatic concept, and not ‘feel’ that there were ‘obvious holes’ in the orchestral dialogue?
“This CD is the result of this combination, and it is fun to see how listeners react to this musical story.”
The critics have heartily welcomed Jonathan’s recording. The music review magazine, Gramaphone, commented, “There have been recordings of orchestral music from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande before. They tend to be suites drawn from the orchestral interludes that link scenes in this most enigmatic of operas. But what conductor Jonathan Nott has done here is to go further, creating a synthesis that draws on the interludes and the sung scenes involving the Pelleás-Mélisande-Golaud triangle that lies at its heart. It’s a deft bit of work, weaving those familiar, gossamer orchestral threads with vocal lines, which have been appropriated by solo instruments. The most successful of these is Mélisande’s song in the tower when she lets down her hair (‘Mes longs cheveux’), where her line is played most effectively by the cor anglais – a neat mirror to Schoenberg’s tone poem, where the instrument features in the love scene.
“It’s wonderful to hear the orchestra in such good shape under Nott, the woodwinds in particularly fine fettle. Nott’s pacing reveals a conductor well acquainted with Debussy’s score from stage performances.
“Nott and the OSR also perform the Schoenberg well, a tougher nut to crack. They relish the knotty, dense orchestral writing while maintaining admirable clarity. […] Nott is alive to the score’s drama and this attractive coupling makes for an intriguing release.”
A beautiful score, Jonathan, that is deservedly well-received by the critics.