RAVEL L’enfant et les sortilèges. Shéhérazade
This live recording of Ravel’s second opera, recorded two years ago, has been issued to mark the 80th birthday of Seiji Ozawa. The multinational cast led by the American Isabel Leonard includes two singers, Paul Gay and Elliot Madore, from the 2012 Glyndebourne production; and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt can also be heard on the Simon Rattle recording from Berlin. Ozawa studied in Paris when he first came to Europe and he is noted for his interpretations of French music. Here he conducts the Saito Kinen Orchestra, which he co-founded in 1984. They play with needle-sharp precision and, where the opportunity presents itself, refined beauty (the muted strings when the action moves into the garden, for instance, or the solo flute that accompanies the Princess). Perhaps the trumpet in the foxtrot for the Chinese Cup and the Teapot isn’t unbuttoned enough; listen to the player on the Ernest Bour recording, who instantly transports you to a louche nightclub in the 1920s.
Isabel Leonard makes a believable Child, from the tantrums at the start to the pity, sympathy and loneliness of the ending. Her warm mezzo comes into its own at ‘Toi, le coeur de la rose’, where Ravel tips his hat to ‘Adieu, notre petite table’ in Massenet’s Manon. Anna Christy’s dazzling coloratura as Fire gives way, after the charming number for the shepherds and shepherdesses, to a heartfelt rendering of the Princess’s lament. A special bouquet to Marie Lenormand and Elliot Madore as the cats, whose mewing (Môrnâou, Méinhon etc) is particularly accurate. This is a good alternative to the Rattle version; but for the truly authentic touch, right from the phrasing of the opening parallel fifths and fourths on the oboes, you need Ernest Bour.
The other pieces were recorded back in 2009. Susan Graham, like Ozawa, is at home in the French repertoire – who could forget her in Chérubin at Covent Garden? – and she is magically sensuous in Shéhérazade. In ‘Asie’, abetted by Ozawa, she moves from the half-light at the beginning to a terrific climax where the would-be traveller imagines violent death. The two shorter songs that follow are done with a tender, veiled delicacy. A lively Alborada del gracioso concludes an enjoyable disc.