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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l'aprés-midi d'un faune (1892-1894) [10:31]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Le sacre du printemps (1911-1913) [34:20]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Boléro (1928) [15:21]
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris/Philippe Jordan
rec. May 2012, Opéra Bastille, Paris, France
NAÏVE V 5332 [60:12]

Three well-known showpieces written for the ballet makes for a logical, if not particularly inspired, programme. Trouble is, the catalogue is stuffed with stand-out performances of all of them, so Jordan and his opera band will need to be on top form if they are to challenge the best, let alone surpass them. The Swiss maestro isn’t the most charismatic or engaging of conductors, as his low-key appearance at this year’s BBC Proms confirmed. Happily the festival also featured a pithily ‘authentic’ Rite by François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles; happily they are to record the work soon. As for the Debussy, Ansermet’s classic account is very desirable, even more so as a high-res download (review), and there are more than enough decent versions of the Ravel to go around.
 
The stage is set, and as the footlights come up it’s clear this is going to be a very dull afternoon indeed. Bright, glassy sound and an unflatteringly close and airless balance are the enemy of essential languor, and the playing is routine. At least it’s fairly seamless - no ugly gear changes à la Jun Märkl - but that counts for little when the performance is so lacking in mood or magic. One only has to hear a few seconds of that Ansermet account to realise what’s missing here, and to be reminded of just how atmospheric and nuanced the vintage Decca recording is.
 
Strike one.
 
Time to draw a veil over that torpid opener and move on to the Stravinsky. The Rite has fared well in this centenary year, and of several recent recordings I favour Jaap van Zweden (review), Gustavo Dudamel (review) and, with some reservations, Iván Fischer (review). Top of the pile, though, is Leonard Bernstein’s live performance on DVD, with the maestro at his magnetic best (review).
 
With expectations so low Jordan’s Rite has much to prove; alas, it seems this collection is jinxed, for Stravinsky’s virile rhythms are flaccid and articulation/phrasing is perverse in the extreme. The shallow recording makes the piece sound both fierce and monochromatic, and it all bumps and grinds in the most unedifying way. The score’s nodal points count for nothing and the usual epiphanies are surrendered without a fight. Really, the way Jordan pulls the music about is appalling - awful.
 
Strike two.
 
Naïve’s production values hover just above zero; the disc is presented in one of those ghastly Digipaks and the gap between the three ballets is much too short. That means the grotesquely undercharacterised final bars of the Danse sacrale slip almost seamlessly into the opening beats of Boléro. At least the playing is a little more crisp and alert, and Jordan does pace the long acceleration tolerably well; that said, this reading is utterly devoid of glitter and/or excitement, and that earlier sense of ennui hangs heavily here too.
 
Strike three.
 
I’m stunned - and not for any of the right reasons. This has to be the most desultory playing I’ve heard in ages; sling in a dismal recording and limp-wristed direction and you have the measure of this CD.
 
Lacklustre performances, poorly recorded; look elsewhere.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei
 
Masterwork Index: Le sacre du printemps