Ravel’s first opera directed by Asher Fisch

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: BR Klassik
ALBUM TITLE: Ravel
WORKS: Chabrier: España
PERFORMER: Gaëlle Arquez, Julien Behr, Mathias Vidal, Alexandre Duhamel, Lionel Lhote; Munich Radio Orchestra/Asher Fisch
CATALOGUE NO: 900317

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Recording Ravel’s first opera with an entirely French cast is at least the first step towards success in a work that depends so much on idiomatic delivery, not just in the pronunciation, but in the phrasing of a libretto and a musical setting that prioritise a natural declamation, based on French speech patterns. It is a great relief not to have to grit one’s teeth waiting for false vowels.

That said, this version somehow lacks the sparkle the work needs. Partly this is due to a rather bass-heavy recording that regularly obscures the lighter instruments such as harp, celesta and Basque drum (though the first celesta entry, while wholly audible, is also early). But partly it stems from an unwillingness to let the cast take their time at vital moments. When Gonzalve, hearing Don Inigo’s loud, high F flat and the slammed door of his clock, peers out of his own one to say ‘I thought someone called…’, Ravel marks it much slower than what’s gone before, giving room for the audience to laugh. Not here. More importantly, when Ramiro asks whether the invitation to Concepcion’s bedroom involves yet more clock moving, her response ‘Sans horloge’, marked simple et nette (simple and clear), again needs more space, being a crux of the plot.

The singing is generally excellent, though I worry over Gaëlle Arquez’s rather shrill upper register, and no less over her apparent status as the next exciting thing in French sopranos.

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Roger Nichols