RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé
Diaghilev’s initial reaction to Daphnis et Chloé, documented in Jean-François Monnard’s excellent booklet-note, was ‘Ravel, it is a masterpiece, but it is not a ballet. It is a painting of a ballet.’ It certainly is a masterpiece and Ravel’s symphonie chorégraphique continues Les Siècles’ period-instrument explorations of the Ballets Russes repertoire following its excellent recordings of the three Stravinsky ballets (Actes Sud, 12/11, 9/14). Recorded in concert from as many as seven different venues – including Paris’s Philharmonie, Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle and Snape Maltings – it marks a terrific debut on the Harmonia Mundi label.
We don’t know what the orchestral sound was like at its 1912 Paris premiere…but many listeners will be familiar with the 1959 LSO recording by the original conductor, Pierre Monteux, long a treasure of the Decca catalogue. Comparisons are instructive. Les Siècles’ French-built woodwind and brass instruments from the early 20th century (documented in the booklet) provide greater tonal sweetness, especially the Selmer trumpets, which don’t dominate textures as much as the incisive LSO brass. Lean gut strings achieve feathery lightness. The ‘Danse guerrière’ is terrific, particularly the sinuous clarinet, juicy contrabassoon and dusky alto flute. In the famous ‘Lever du jour’, the key clatter of the woodwinds among the chirruping detracts a touch from the magic, the close recording possibly trying to negate the acoustical differences between the venues. Marion Ralincourt, playing a Louis Lot flute with less vibrato than her LSO counterpart, beguiles in the ‘Danse de Lycéion’ and is both seductive and coquettish in the Syrinx Pantomime episode.
François-Xavier Roth teases a much more expansive opening than Monteux, a slow burn leading to an ecstatic first choral entry. He is often more languorous, the performance nearly four minutes slower than the Decca account. However, Roth attacks the ‘Danse guerrière’ with more vim and also whips up a faster bacchanalian finale. With fine choral contributions from the Ensemble Aedes, this new recording is highly recommended.