Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé - symphonie choréographique (1909-12) [57:30]
John Alldis Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. 6 November 1979, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London, BBC Radio 3
LPO 0059 [57:48]
Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé is a masterful, original and inventive work. The composer termed it a ‘Symphonie choréographique’ - a substantial ballet with large orchestra and wordless chorus. It is so successful at vividly painting its mystical love pastoral that it has succeeded in the concert hall as well as the theatre. A great test of an orchestra, chorus, conductor and recording team, a combination of mysticism, warmth, seductiveness, precision and restraint is required. The current disc presents a live performance from November, 1979 when Haitink was Principal Conductor of the LPO. The recording is clear and warm and does not show its age.
As we are reminded in the informative notes, the composer described Daphnis et Chloé as an idealized version of Greek mythology … “the Greece of my dreams”. The ravishing music starts from a faraway place. The muted trumpets entering after rehearsal number two are curiously not legato as indicated in the score. The result is a less dreamy quality at the start since the phrasing has a slightly more interrupted feel. From time to time, there are some minor, though noticeable, intonation issues. At the start, the harp and flute both play D sharp but are not entirely in tune with each other. Some horn entrances also take a moment to find their intonation. Overall, none of this is too bothersome.
The John Alldis Choir, a cappella, has the spotlight for the scene change to the pirate camp (Scene 2). They are variously otherworldly and robust when they need to be. Part two ends with menace from the brass as Pan and the Satyrs scare off the pirates who have captured Chloé. The famous sunrise sequence at the start of Part three is well judged and deliberately paced though does not linger in the memory the way this section does in the best performances. For sheer radiance, it is hard to beat Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The recorded sound has an analog presence and balance with space and warmth. The levels are slightly on the low side. The stereo separation could be wider to help illustrate the brilliance of the orchestration as passages shift across the various stands of the string sections.
Haitink is up against some truly wonderful recordings of this masterpiece. These include Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New England Conservatory Chorus, Charles Dutoit with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on Decca, Levine with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus on the BSO Label, and Myung-Whun Chung with the Radio France Philharmonic.
Overall, this performance is somewhat lacking and held back by a degree of reserve. The focus is more on nobility than beauty where ideally these two elements would be in balance. Haitink achieves a more successful blend for his more recent effort with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Held back by a degree of reserve.