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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914, arr. 1919)
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
L’arbre des songes (1979-85)
Maurice DELAGE (1879-1961)
Quatre poèmes hindus (1912-13)
Métaboles (1959-64)
Maurice RAVEL
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2 (1909-12)
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Julia Bullock (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live, 13 January 2016, Barbican Hall, London
French text & English translation (Delage)
Bonus features: Interviews with Sir Simon Rattle, Leonidas Kavakos, Julia Bullock, Olivier Stankiewicz (LSO Principal Oboe) & Adam Walker (LSO Principal Flute)
Picture: NTSC, 16.9/1080i
Sound: 16/48 PCM stereo
Regions: All
LSO LIVE LSO3038 Blu-ray/DVD [96 mins]

The impending formal arrival of Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director of the LSO in September is occasioning significant excitement. For instance, I believe that all three of his opening concerts will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. Understandably, the LSO Live label is playing its part in generating interest. I believe that between now and November they’ll be releasing recordings of a concert performance of Pelléas et Mélisande and of a programme that couples Le Sacre du Printemps with music by Berg, Ligeti and Webern. First out of the blocks, though, is this French programme from January 2016.

It’s a thoughtfully arranged programme with the Delage songs acting as a kind of sorbet between the more substantial Ravel and Dutilleux dishes. Le Tombeau de Couperin is a splendid opener to the programme. The Prélude is light, the music seeming to take wing. Olivier Stankiewicz’s oboe playing is a cause of special delight; indeed, his playing is distinguished and characterful throughout this work. Forlane is given with courtly grace; the Menuet is refined and the quick sections of Rigadoun have a cheery bustle. Throughout the performance Rattle’s facial expressions indicate that he’s deriving huge pleasure not just from the music but also from the refined way in which the LSO play it.

Dutilleux’s L’arbre des songes is a violin concerto in all but name – it was written for Isaac Stern. Rattle is an ideal conductor for this sort of music. He’s so attentive to detail and he also conveys the shape of the piece. As a result, Dutilleux’s richly-imagined, fastidious sound world really comes to life. He’s ‘with’ his soloist every step of the way and that’s vital in a complex work such as this. Leonidas Kavakos is marvellous. He has all the virtuosity that certain passages demand but what Dutilleux requires his soloist to do above all is to let his instrument sing. Kavakos certainly achieves that. In the ‘bonus’ interview Rattle discusses a certain similarity between Dutilleux’s sound world and that of Messiaen. He seems to me to bring that out – though I don’t believe Messiaen ever employed a cimbalom in one of his works. (In passing, I do wish Rattle would return to Messiaen’s vast Turangalîla-Symphonie of which he was such a fine exponent in his Birmingham days.) Here L’arbre des songes receives a very fine performance indeed.

As I mentioned, Delage’s Quatre poèmes hindus seem almost like a sorbet course in this programme, not least because the forces required are so small compared to the other pieces: the singer is accompanied by a small ensemble consisting of a string quartet, harp and five woodwind instruments. The soloist here is the American soprano Julia Bullock. Her voice is well suited to this music; her timbre is rich and sensuous, though if I have a criticism her diction isn’t ideally clear. Rattle directs the ensemble with fastidious care and Miss Bullock’s performance is involving.

It's back to very large orchestral forces for Dutilleux’s Métaboles. This work was written for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and clearly with an eye to the orchestra’s famed virtuosity under Szell’s exacting leadership. It’s cast in five short movements which play without a break and it is, effectively, a concerto for orchestra. Each section of the orchestra is placed in the spotlight in turn in the first four movements before the whole ensemble is well and truly put through its paces in the finale. So, the woodwind are to the fore in the first section, Incantatoire. The strings are the featured section in Linéaire and the LSO’s string choir are superb in the way they deliver the slow, atmospheric music. This is gorgeous stuff. The fourth movement, Torpide is especially interesting. The music is strange, slow and muted - literally so in the case of the brass. Though the percussion section is featured it’s not thrust into the spotlight in a flamboyant way; rather, the instruments are used quietly and most imaginatively for atmospheric effect. The final movement is fast and virtuosic and the present performance is very exciting. The playing of the LSO in this performance of Métaboles is just fabulous.

Rattle finishes with the second suite from Daphnis et Chloé. This great ballet has had an important place in his repertoire over the years and here he conducts a super performance. Of course, there’s no choir; I regret that but readily acknowledge it would have been completely impractical in this programme. Lever du jour is marvellous – the violins sing their long, rapturous lines wonderfully. In Pantomime, the palm has to go to the LSO’s principal flute, Adam Walker who is marvellous here. His playing is elegantly seductive. The concluding Danse générale is a joyous whirlwind, though the music is never allowed to run out of control. Rattle is in his element here. Needless to say, the performance receives a huge ovation at the end though I was glad to note that there’s just as warm a reception for Métaboles.
If this repertoire appeals then you’ll find that all the performances are top-notch. This is further evidence, I think, that the partnership of Simon Rattle and the LSO is going to be formidable.

The camerawork is very good. I used the Blu-ray disc for most of my reviewing and found that the picture quality and sound were both excellent. I sampled the DVD also and can assure collectors who don’t have Blu-ray that the DVD option will also serve them very well indeed.

For this video presentation LSO Live has partnered with a French production company. Presumably that explains the slightly odd way in which the bonus interviews are conducted. Throughout all the conversations interviewer Antoine Pecqueur speaks in French and there are English subtitles. However, with one exception all his interviewees speak in English (with French subtitles). The exception is Olivier Stankiewicz; his interview is conducted entirely in French with English subtitles. If subtitles could be used for the interviews why could they not have been provided for the performance of the Delage songs? It’s true that the texts and translations are provided in the booklet but subtitles would have been a welcome option.

John Quinn


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