RAVEL L'enfant et les sortilèges. Ma Mère l'Oye
Ravel was never more sincere than in his works devoted to childhood, the theme for this fifth volume in Stéphane Denève’s Ravel cycle with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart. The spoilt brat of L’enfant et les sortilèges is paired with Ma Mère l’Oye, which was inspired by the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. The opera was recorded in 2015 and must be one of the orchestra’s final discs, having merged last autumn with its Baden-Baden and Freiburg sister.
From the intertwined oboes in the prelude to L’enfant, Denève yet again proves himself an exceptionally fine conductor of French repertoire. The playing is pristine, especially in the little interlude as the action moves into the garden, which is magical – owl hooting, nightingale twittering, crickets chirruping. It’s an exquisite nature study by Ravel that never fails to make its mark.
L’enfant has received a number of recent recordings and several of the cast here can also be found elsewhere. Paul Gay’s Armchair is amusingly droll and François Piolino’s Arithmétique is full of menace. Annick Massis (also on Leonard Slatkin’s Naxos recording) just about negotiates Ravel’s fearful coloratura as Fire, but is delightful as the storybook princess. Some of the singing is a little under-characterised, not least Camille Poul’s Child which, although beautifully sung, isn’t as wild as other mezzos in wrecking the nursery. Still, with the Stuttgart orchestra slinking through the teapot/china cup foxtrot with such panache, it’s difficult to resist this fresh account. One cavil: no libretto is provided.
The performance of Ma Mère l’Oye (taken from a 2013 concert) is full of misty eyed charm, the Stuttgart woodwinds caressing the ‘Sleeping Beauty Pavane’ lovingly, while the piccolo and percussion bring exotic glamour to ‘The Empress of the Pagodas’. Denève never hurries or crushes this most fragile of scores, even the contrabassoon Beast sounding elegant in his conversations with Beauty. An affectionate disc to appeal to the child in all of us.