Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La Valse (1920) [13:10]
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2 (1912) [18:06]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Pavane in F sharp minor (1887) [7:20]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Overture: Strike Up the Band [8:06]; Songs: By Strauss [3:55]; How Long Has this Been Going on? [6:40]; Nice Work if You Can Get It [5:09]; Embraceable You [8:20]; ’S Wonderful [5:18]; A Foggy Day [10:51]
Dianne Reeves (vocals); Peter Martin (piano); Reuban Rogers (double-bass); Greg Hutchinson (drums)
Berlin Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle
rec. live, Philharmonie, Berlin, 31 December 2003
Picture: NTSC/16:9
Sound: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1
EUROARTS DVD 2053648 [91:00]

The Gershwin selections start with a rather too solemn Overture to Strike Up the Band. It’s all too symphonic and too strait-laced; no smiles from the performers or the audience. Things do not improve much with the first batch of songs and the orchestra remain grave. Jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves has a lovely timbre, a voice reminiscent of Cleo Laine with a firm resounding bass and a secure top, an impressive vocal range. Her first song, By Strauss causes the orchestra to launch into a full blown arrangement that would have pleased Richard Strauss before it relaxes somewhat into the waltz figures of Johann Strauss. How Long Has This Been Going On? was given far too seriously with Rattle investing little or no romance – in passing I couldn’t help being reminded of Audrey Hepburn who might not have had much of a voice but certainly packed enough emotion when she delivered this lovely song with a much more sympathetic orchestral backup in the film, Funny Face. Nice Work if You Can Get It had more rhythmic vitality. The second group of songs draws more enjoyment from both performers and audience. Embraceable You has a delicious piano solo from Peter Martin and there’s a lengthy and nicely expressive viola to lift A Foggy Day performed by The Berliner Philharmoniker à la Ravel justifying this New Year’s Eve concert’s title of ‘Ravel meets Gershwin’.

The concert opens with a wistful, dewy performance of Fauré’s Pavane. The Ravel section begins with La Valse; its lilting swaying waltz figures, so evocative of chandelier-lit Viennese ballrooms, glittering gowns and resplendent uniforms, giving way to that disturbing ghostly section suggestive of crumbling finery withering before a chill wind sweeping dead leaves across the ballroom floor. Rattle spares no bitter irony and the last section booms away like the gunfire signalling the end of La Belle Époque and the entrance of World War horror.

The main work in the programme is Rattle’s Technicolored reading of Ravel’s Second Daphnis et Chloé Suite. The virtuosity of every section of the Berlin orchestra - especially the woodwinds - is magnificently shown off in a vivid atmospheric reading: shimmering, voluptuous and barbarically thrilling.

Glorious Ravel but does Gershwin have to be so buttoned up?

Ian Lace

Glorious Ravel but does Gershwin have to be so buttoned up?