RAVEL Lucerne Festival 2018 (Chailly)
‘To embody the expressive totality of dance solely through sound’ is how the rather grand booklet notes describe the aim of this beautiful DVD, filmed at last year’s Lucerne Festival. Riccardo Chailly’s programme focuses on Ravel’s works for ballet, though Ma Mère l’Oye is omitted and Daphnis et Chloé comes in the form of its two Suites rather than the complete work. Boléro has become so familiar in the concert hall that we sometimes forget it was commissioned by Ida Rubinstein, whose company gave the world premiere to choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. The orchestral version of Valses nobles et sentimentales, meanwhile, was first performed as a ballet under the extraordinary title Adelaide, ou Le langage des fleurs, though away from the concert hall we are now more likely to encounter it under its own name choreographed by Frederick Ashton, who also gave us what many still believe to be the finest version of La valse.
Chailly and the Lucerne orchestra perform Valses nobles and La valse in a single unbroken sequence at the concert’s start, for which I’m unaware of any precedent, though placing them in such close proximity inevitably highlights the contrast between the two. Valses nobles is all cool poise and brittle elegance. The orchestral sound is almost glacially transparent here, the prominent woodwind solos are all graciously honed and the mood of refined unsentimental nostalgia is immaculately sustained throughout. In its wake, however, the opening of La valse, with its ominous rocking double bass figurations and slithering flute scales, seems even more ominous than usual, a baleful prefiguration of the music’s violent dissolution at the close. In between come some gloriously silky string-playing (the slightly exaggerated, Viennese portamentos are delicious), brilliant brass flourishes and a real sense of an almost imperceptibly gathering maelstrom.
This is extremely fine, as indeed are the Daphnis Suites, where the playing is superbly accomplished in its understated virtuosity and Chailly is marvellously acute in his understanding of Ravel’s sonorities. There are real frissons of excitement and menace in Suite No 1, when the ‘Danse guerrière’ suddenly intrudes on the pervasive sensuality of the previous scenes. The flute solo in the Second Suite, exquisitely played by Jacques Zoon, sounds chastely sensuous rather than languidly torpid, and the ‘Danse générale’ is all the more forceful for being taken at a sensible speed, gathering momentum as it goes, rather than rushed or scrambled. Boléro, meanwhile, is outstandingly done with the succession of instrumental solos both scrupulously played and individually characterised without for a second fracturing the cumulative impact of the whole. The recorded sound is tremendous – state-of-the-art demonstration level and beyond.