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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin [20:27]
Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 [18:30]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
L’arbre des songes [27:01]
Métaboles [17:09]
Maurice DELAGE (1879-1961)
Quatre poèmes hindous [11:30]
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Julia Bullock (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live, Barbican Hall, London, 13 January 2016
Region Code 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; 2.0 PCM Stereo
LSO LIVE Blu-ray/DVD LSO3038 [96 mins]

This video is part of the bonanza of discs that LSO Live is releasing to celebrate the arrival of Simon Rattle as their music director, and it’s very satisfying. In fact, it works on several levels. As well as pointing up the orchestra’s magnificent playing, it illustrates the conductor’s flair for programming, as well as underlining some of the things that make his tastes so distinctive, such as his ability to make connections between corners of the repertoire.

French music unites the disc, of course, beginning and ending with Ravel. Le Tombeau de Couperin is mellifluous and beautiful, with a wonderfully seductive, ripple to the opening wind lines. In a bonus interview Rattle describes the suite as “almost an oboe concerto” and that comes through beautifully without being overly dominant. The tone is especially beguiling in the long, lyrical line of the Menuet, but there is a very winning Gallic tone throughout, demonstrating that the LSO is capable of just about anything. That is coupled with a good lightness of touch, though the Rigaudon comes closest to being a little heavy-handed.

The Daphnis Suite is more wholly successful, with a sensuous, shimmering sunrise leading the way; and this is a good example of a time when seeing it helps appreciate what you hear: my respect for the wind players shot up when I saw their fingers moving so quickly that they almost blurred, even in BD HD!  That respect went yet higher when I heard the glorious flute solo of Pan and Syrinx.  Only the concluding Danse générale is oddly lacking in momentum, for all that it’s well played.

Dutilleux’s Tree of Dreams is effectively a violin concerto in all but name, and it’s played with great virtuosity and deep commitment by Leonidas Kavakos, a soloist who clearly believes in the piece.  Well he may, because it’s a deeply compelling drama, stretching from the meditative introspection of the opening section (the four “movements” are run together) through the energetic second, the rhapsodic third and the questioning fourth, though I confess I found the “tuning up” episode, supposedly the most famous part of the piece, a little tedious.  I admit I don’t know much Dutilleux, but I was completely drawn into this piece, like a psychodrama unfolding from within both the composer and the performers.  Dutilleux uses the orchestra in all sorts of surprising ways, conjuring up some intoxicating sounds that are quite spellbinding, and the violin weaves in and out of it like a thread in a tapestry.  It’s marvellous, and well worth a listen if you’re as new to it as I was.

Métaboles is more familiar, and here it sparkles, ripples and trembles.  The winds, in particular, revel in their moment in the sun, before the strings evoke a sound of uncommon tenderness that you don’t automatically associate with post-war orchestral music.  It also builds to a really exciting conclusion, and showcases the orchestra at their kaleidoscopic best.

A much slimmed-down orchestra (around a dozen solo players) accompanies Maurice Delage’s Four Hindu Poems, which tread a line between expressionism and hyper-Romanticism.  At times Delage tries to evoke Indian melodies, most obviously at the start of the second song where the cello’s glissando pizzicati evoke the sitar.  In others, however, he isn’t far from the heady sound world of Pelléas or, perhaps, early Schoenberg.  Rattle and his players clearly believe in it, however, and I can think of few finer instruments to interpret it than the sultry voice of Julia Bullock, especially in the sensuous melismas that end the second song. Texts and translations are included in the booklet note.

Generously, LSO Live give us both the DVD and BD of the same programme, and there is a selection of bonus interviews with Rattle and several performers. The surround sound is admirably clear and the picture quality excellent.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: John Quinn



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