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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloë: Suite No. 2 [1913]
Pavane pour une infante défunte [1910]
La Valse [1919-20] Ma mère l'Oye: Cinq pièces enfantines [1911] Boléro [1928]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 9-10 February and 21 September, 2003. TELARC CD-80601 [63:00]

There is much to enjoy in Paavo Järvi's well-proportioned Ravel performances. The Daphnis et Chloë suite is so much more effective when the first, easily expansive climax of Daybreak doesn't overshadow the bigger one several pages later, and when that one in turn doesn't displace the Danse génèrale as the emotional peak. Separating those movements is a mysterious Pantomime, no slower than most, but with the precisely defined pizzicato chords producing a distinctive spaciousness. La Valse, for all its color and pulsating life, emerges as a broad, purposeful arc of sound, graceful and pointed, yet eschewing moment-to-moment thrills, save for a stiff, self-conscious agogic at 5:51. The conductor also has a good feel for the ebb and flow of the orchestral sonority, eliciting impassioned yet impeccably controlled surges of sound from the Cincinnati strings in both Daphnis and the Pavane.

Unfortunately, Järvi's unfussy, no-nonsense rhythmic address doesn't incorporate the needed tempering flexibility. He projects the music's rhythmic pulse rather rigidly: the Laideronette episode of Mother Goose, for example, sounds rushed, owing to the lack of breathing space in the phrasing. The impressively crisp, quiet start to Boléro immediately feels a bit relentless, an impression amplified when the trumpet at 4:21 lags a bit on the staccatos, and when, shortly thereafter, both sax and clarinet sound hard pressed to fit in their jazzy slides, disturbing the rhythmic equilibrium. (Nor does it help that the tempo lurches ahead at 10:25 - a different take, perhaps?)

And the disc seems to catch the Cincinnati orchestra in transition: they're on their way to a more characterful sound than they had under Jesus López-Cobos, but the kinks aren't all worked out. The strings, as indicated, can surge attractively, but the ensemble tone in the Jardin féerique of Mother Goose is grainy. Thomas Sherwood's horn solo in the Pavane's high tessitura is secure and focused, but lacks sensuous velvet; in that piece, the solo woodwinds sound poignant, but elsewhere they're less good, save for the consistently luminous solo clarinet. The Mother Goose opening should be magically delicate, but the unsubtle flute reduces it to the merely tender; the English horn introducing the Daphnis pantomime is wooden. La Valse, good as it is, brings up passing balance questions: the woodwind busywork surrounding the full-bodied duetting bassoons after 1:01 threatens to cover them; the levels of the melodic instruments at 2:24 ff. aren't carefully enough matched.

The translucent sound, at least, is first-class, with a flattering touch of ambience around solo winds. As expected, the low-range clarity makes unusual sense of the bass pulses opening La Valse, and the bass clarinet at 1:01 registers with exceptional depth. But you can still rest content with Dutoit's complete Daphnis (most recently available as Decca Legends 458605) while Monteux's Philips program (variously available on Philips 464733 and 442542) takes the palm in the shorter pieces.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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