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Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé
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Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé was conceived as a ballet in one act and three parts. It tells the story of the love between the shepherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloe through one warlike tableau framed by two pastoral ones. The orchestral forces are the largest Ravel ever employed and he added to that a mixed chorus. Making his harmonia mundi début, François-Xavier Roth has gone through Ravel's much-amended score with a fine-tooth comb. He leads the musicians of Les Siècles in a 'historically informed' performance that reproduces all the original transparency and stylistic precision of this impressionist masterpiece.
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Tempi are fairly standard though I perceived the final dance dragged a bit [could be more due to significant balance problems with winds and muted brass handing off the moving parts, i.e. barely audible even with headphones listening]. The flute solo in the last part was mostly strong though I wished for more secured handling of some slurred triplets. The oboe solo in 'Danse suppliante de Chloe' is at times overpowered by the strings. Fortunately the great moments are much more common than these brief issues.
More on the instruments: The vintage strings sound more smooth and delicate, and this enhances ensemble transparency in the lower-to-moderate volume sections in Part 1. The wind machine is primitive by today’s standards, and the listener might find it either quaint or obnoxious. The trumpets and trombones (instruments described in booklet) occasionally have pitch problems, and the note attacks aren’t as clean as with modern brass.
I’m glad to have this pseudo-period rendition in my collection. You take the good with the bad: The Arcadian qualities are enhanced, but the instruments and ensemble don’t have that extra gear to take the most dramatic sections to epic levels. It's also studio recording, so you don't have the acoustical environment of a large hall to help. So I’ll be retaining my recordings by Boulez/Berlin and Dutoit/Montreal.
It’s clear the artists and recording label took great care on this project, which has a hand-made quality to it. I think it’d be a good candidate for vinyl and the smoother sounding SACD format. Recommended for fellow Ravel fanatics.
Finally, the disc contains only the one ballet. I think they should have included a short work in addition such as Ravel’s Ouverture de Feerie or perhaps Dukas’s Fanfare from La Peri. As a side note, I’d be interested to hear what this ensemble and a French soprano could do with Ravel’s Sheherazade.