Ravel L'enfant et les sortilèges

Author: 
Patrick O'Connor

Ravel L'enfant et les sortilèges – Ernest Bour

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

In some ways, L'enfant et les sortileges is an ideal opera for the gramophone. One's imagination can supply things which even the most innovative stage director couldn't achieve. This performance, originally issued as a set of six 78s (and then shortly afterwards as an LP), was the first recording, made 23 years after the premiere. Rather than looking back to an existing tradition, it was one of the first important projects of the group of singers and musicians who for the following quarter of a century were to be an unofficial resident company in the studios of Radiodiffusion Francaise.
Ernest Bour was a conductor noted for his devotion to the contemporary repertory, who gave a large number of first performances on the radio in France, Germany and The Netherlands. There he leads a performance of great charm—when it was first issued, Ned Rorem remembered (in Setting the Tone; New York: 1983) ''Ernest Bour's record provoked an epidemic, we were all as bewitched as the protagonist''. The 'we' was a group of young composers in New York, all of whom wished they might have composed something similar. Above all, Bour's performers are remarkable for their excellent diction and vocal acting. Inevitably, in a recording of this age, the voices are favoured so that although Ravel's wonderful characterization is clear enough in solo instrumental passages, the complexity and richness of the orchestral effects is not always caught. The remastering is first-rate, there is no crackle or hiss.
Among the singers, all great figures from the French stage and concert platform of the time even if not all their names are familiar, Nadine Sautereau as the Child conveys the right blend of innocence and malice. She was best known as an interpreter of baroque music, but she clearly had an equal feeling for Ravel's subtle melodies and mixture of song and declamation. Denise Scharley (later the first Mme de Croissy in the French premiere of Poulenc's Carmelites) is especially effective as the Dragon-fly, with her sensual solo ''Ou es-tu?'' leading to the exquisite little duet with the Nightingale. Solange Michel, a famous Carmen (her EMI version with Cluytens is scheduled for release on CD next month) sings a really heartfelt Squirrel. Perhaps the most intriguing singer is the Breton baritone Yvon le Marc' Hadour, who makes a splendid impression as the Tom-cat.
This recording has the complete air of authenticity about it. Since all the subsequent versions (even Ansermet's recorded in 1955 on Decca, 6/93) are in stereo, it is for the link with French vocal tradition that this classic performance is recommended. As such it is hors concours.'

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