Ravel L'enfant et les sortilèges.

Author: 
Patrick O'Connor

Ravel L'enfant et les sortilèges.

  • (L')Enfant et les sortilèges, 'Bewitched Child'

This has been quite a year for the Child with the knife, taught a lesson by the victims of his vandalism, the Tree, the Squirrel, the Princess from the fairy-tale and the tragic Dragon-fly. First came the reissue of the Ernest Bour recording on Testament (which won one of this year's Historic Awards), then the sumptuous new Decca version under Dutoit; at the Proms we heard a splendidly theatrical account under Nagano, with some classic performances from Michel Senechal and other French specialists. Now comes the reissue of this 1981 recording, the only modern version available at mid price, so welcome on its own terms.
Unfortunately, neither recording nor performance puts it high on the list of recommendations, though it is a perfectly acceptable interpretation. It lacks the feel of the theatre, and although Previn responds well to the comic side of the score, the intense mystery that one is looking for at such key moments as the song of the shepherds and shepherdesses, or the move into the garden, even the final chorus of ''Il est sage'', is not evident, especially when compared with Maazel or Dutoit. Part of the problem is that Susan Davenny Wyner as the Child sounds too mature and womanly; there isn't enough differentiation between her tones and those of Jocelyne Taillon as the Mother (she's very good as the Dragon-fly), or Jane Berbie as the Sofa and Squirrel. Berbie, strangely listed in the booklet as a soprano, though of course she is a mezzo, sang those parts for Maazel in 1960, and 20 years later she had developed more of a beat in her voice, so the security is lacking in the Squirrel's wonderful little aria about the sky – the high point of the whole opera.
Arleen Auger is predictably fine as the Fire and the Princess, but even she has some difficulty with the soaring lines: one has to go back to Danco on the Ansermet set to hear how this should really be handled. That historic recording is at mid price too, but only as part of a two-disc set. For clarity of orchestral sound and texture, the Dutoit and Maazel recordings are in a class of their own (though 34 years separate them). For authenticity of French style, the Bour is the one to have.'

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