Debussy, Ravel: Ballades de Villon; Danse sacrée et danse profane; Shéhérazade; Le tombeau de Couperin; Pavane pour une infante défunte

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy,Ravel
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Ballades de Villon; Danse sacrée et danse profane; Shéhérazade; Le tombeau de Couperin; Pavane pour une infante défunte
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Alison Hagley (soprano), Lisa Wellbaum (harp); Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 471 614-2
Boulez gives us a beautifully poised programme here of Ravel and Debussy imagining distant places and bygone ages. But why two singers when one would have done just as well? It’s rather hard to turn from von Otter’s perfect pianissimos and effortless phrasing – long indeed when the text demands it – to the respectable but altogether more short-winded delivery of Alison Hagley, a singer well known to Boulez from their collaboration in the Peter Stein production of Pelléas et Mélisande. ‘Le jet d’eau’, one of only five Debussy songs orchestrated by the composer, comes as a rude awakening after so much pinpoint delicacy; though Hagley’s surprisingly dark tone is much more at home in the dramatic narrative of the first Villon Ballade. Hyper-sophistication is the order of the day elsewhere. While von Otter’s Shéhérazade is a slimline, coolish beauty alongside the voluptuous pleasures of a Crespin, she reflects Boulez’s precise but never unmagical imagination, and it’s a rare pleasure to trace the singer’s orchestral companions diving in and out of the vocal line; the Cleveland first flute goes on to even more supernatural beauties in a deeply felt Minuet in Le tombeau de Couperin and the equally luminous central section of the Pavane. These are long-standing Boulez specialities, set this time against the crushed velvet of Debussy’s discreet studies for harp and orchestra, and he lends them a new, aristocratic profile perfectly lit by the artful but never invasive recording. From the susurrating violins at the start of Shéhérazade to the triumphant brass chord at the end of the Menuet antique, every sonority is just perfect. David Nice

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