RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé. Une barque sur l'océan
It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that Gustavo Gimeno’s new Pentatone recording of Daphnis et Chloé should appear so soon after François-Xavier Roth’s version with Les Siècles for Harmonia Mundi, much admired in these pages and elsewhere when it was released earlier this year. Using conventional rather than period instruments, Gimeno’s performance does, indeed, have much to recommend it. It’s a coolly sensual account, for the most part beautifully played by his Luxembourg orchestra. There’s a laid-back, languorous feel to much of it. Gimeno lingers over the lovers’ rapt kiss after the dancing contest, and the Pan-Syrinx Pantomime, the flute solo done with wonderful poise, is all the more exquisite for being taken slowly. String textures are warm yet fastidiously teased out without quite equalling Roth’s transparency. Lycéion’s clarinets are sinewy and provocative, spelling out real danger. Gimeno has a fine chorus in Cologne’s WDR Radio Choir, hushed and mysterious-sounding, very different from Roth’s brighter, more open-vowelled Ensemble Aedes.
Heady though it is, however, the sensuousness sometimes comes at the price of the score’s menace and élan. Dorcon’s ‘Danse grotesque’ sounds a bit too polite and the Pirates’ first incursion isn’t as threatening as it might be. The ‘Danse guerrière’ and the final ‘Bacchanale’ impress with their precision – the brass are terrific – but don’t really take us to Dionysian extremes. Roth is altogether more exciting here, though to get the full measure of what can be done with the closing pages, you need, perhaps, to turn to Charles Dutoit’s 1981 Montreal performance on Decca, where orchestral virtuosity and breakneck speeds result in something uniquely overwhelming. Gimeno’s fillers are attractive: the ominous beauty of Une barque sur l’océan is deftly captured; the refined grace and melancholy elegance of Pavane pour une infante défunte are finely judged.