of Ravel’s complete ballet are quite rare. You are more likely
to know the music through the two suites which Ravel compiled
some years later. Of these the second uses all of the music
from Part 3 of the ballet. There are three parts to this hour
long ballet. There are nine scenes in total. The music, more
or less, plays without a break.
story tells of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe in what is known
as the Graeco-Roman romance by the 2nd century poet Longus.
The setting is the Isle of Lesbos where the couple face various
misfortunes. These include Chloe’s abduction by pirates in scene
IV only to be re-united with Daphnis in a joyous 5/4 time ‘Bacchanale’
in the final scene.
his notes Keith Anderson writes that Ravel saw the story “through
the prism of Amyot’s sixteenth century French translation of
Longus and the pastoral conventions of the eighteenth century
as imagined with a certain nostalgia ... by Verlaine, Mallarmé
and others.” For myself I listened to some of this music whilst
looking at paintings by Claude Lorraine (1600-1682) whose evocative
work is set in Roman - or is it Greek - countryside with mythological
figures cavorting in the fields and hills. These are idealized
images and, for their time, also quite Romantic. The lighting
is magical in these pictures as is the enchanting opening of
the ballet a ‘danse réligieuse’. I was reminded of Claude’s
National Gallery picture ‘The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah’.
And whilst listening to the justly famous ‘Lever du jour’, which
opens scene three, I was reminded of the sunrise in the ‘Landscape
with Parnassus’, with its flecks of rosy clouds and advancing
sets for the first production were designed by Leon Bakst, and
one of these is illustrated on the booklet cover. Claude and
indeed Watteau are not far away in this secret and yet brightly
open landscape. How perfect this is for a composer of Ravel’s
sensibilities. He was ever open to the natural world with a
personal sense of how to express it through his remarkably beautiful,
sparking, clear and masterly orchestration.
extraordinary to think that the ballet received only two performances
at its first production in Paris in 1912. Of course it came
out just before ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ and indeed in the same
season as Diaghilev’s presentation of Debussy’s ‘Prélude a l’après-midi
d’un faune’, considered to be at the time indecent and erotic.
But there were other factors behind this cool initial reception.
Michel Fokine had been in charge of the choreography and had
a complex disagreement with Diaghilev about his relationship
with Nijinsky. The former then angled to give Daphnis only a
few performance opportunities, much to the great sadness of
Ravel who had, after all, written what was probably his masterpiece.
Later, under Monteux, the work proved to be a great success.
Laurent Petitgirard is no Monteux but what has he to say about
this work? I recently encountered him as a composer in a particularly
impressive ‘Poème’ for string orchestra. Some of his music is
available on Naxos. Here he brings a composer’s ear to this
large-scale ballet. He paces himself in the knowledge that he
is recording the entire thing, producing a symphonic flow which
captivates from start to finish instead of an episodic sense
of scenes and storylines.
said that, the down-side is that some sections lack what I can
best describe as ‘atmosphere’. This is especially so in the
famous ‘Lever du jour’ and in the second scene ‘Les jeunes filles
attirent Daphnis’. I probably can’t blame this very fine orchestra
and I can’t blame the generally really pleasing recording. In
the end it has to come down to the conductor’s approach.
recording is rather a nuisance in one respect. Although the
balance between the excellent Bordeaux opera chorus and the
orchestra is just right, in the quiet passages, as for instance
at the very start, one must put the volume up. In the louder
passages the volume has to be turned down and seem a little
crowded and overloaded. I tried out these sections on three
different stereo systems and felt the same each time. Still
it’s only a small point. I wouldn’t want to put you off buying
this disc although I am reliably informed that the Charles Munch
classic recording on RCA (82876613882) is still in the catalogue
and is by most accounts highly recommendable.
CD booklet is highly detailed giving the story behind the work’s
creation and most helpfully runs through the scenic action track
see also Review
by Michael Cookson