Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges; Shéhérazade

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: L’enfant et les sortilèges; Shéhérazade
PERFORMER: Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano); with Geneviève Després, Kirsten Gunlogson, Philippe Castagner, Ian Greenlaw, Kevin Short, Agathe Martel, Cassandre Prévost, Julie Cox; Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus; Chattanooga Boys Choir; Members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Alastair Willis
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660215

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It’s a mark of Ravel’s genius that L’enfant et les sortilèges contains music of such tear-inducing beauty. A lesser composer would have been content with the prevailing fun and spectacle that make much of this masterpiece feel like a fast-paced sketch show. Ravel brilliantly balances raucous humour with heartfelt tenderness, and any production or recording needs to be able to convey both his caricatures and the sublime.

This engaging account from Nashville successfully negotiates this balancing act. It draws upon a fine cast, unafraid to set aside vocal mellifluousness in order to produce a convincing clock (Ian Greenlaw), Louis XV chair (Julie Cox), teapot (Philippe Castagner) and tree (Kevin Short).

In an ideal world, Cassandre Prévost would have found more space for the acrobatics of the fire and nightingale, but there’s much to admire in this cast, not least Geneviève Després’s mother.

Julie Boulianne’s child has wide-eyed wonder, but too little infantile mischievousness in the earlier stages. She can be heard in grown-up, and decidedly seductive mode in the accompanying Shéhérazade. Her performance is strong, though she makes slightly heavy weather of the climax to ‘Asie’, and could bring more sense of luxuriant velvet plush to ‘La flûte enchantée’.

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The Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Alastair Willis is very impressive but, despite some wonderful colours, just a little strait-laced at times in L’enfant. While there is a synopsis of L’enfant, the absence of texts for either work is frustrating. Christopher Dingle