Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges and Ma mère l’Oye

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WORKS: L’enfant et les sortilèges; Ma mère l’Oye
PERFORMER: Camille Poul, Marie Karall, Annick Massis, Julie Pasturaud, Maïlys de Villoutreys, Paul Gay, Marc Barrard, François Piolino; SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart; Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe; Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Stéphane Denève


Where Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France paired their star-studded recording of L’enfant et les sortilèges with Debussy’s one act opera, L’enfant prodigue, Stéphane Denève’s modest recording with SWR Stuttgart stays in the enchanted world of Ravel’s imagined nursery. Nothing truly terrible can happen here. If children misbehave, or hurt themselves or others, there will always be a loving pair of arms to hold them safe, and a gentle voice to scold and soothe them.

In Denève’s carefully paced and largely well-balanced L’enfant et les sortilèges, that gentle voice belongs to Marie Karall, who sings the Mother, China Cup and Dragonfly with unfaltering tenderness. Her fellow cast-members, most notably Julie Pasturaud as the Shepherdess, Squirrel and a brilliantly yowling Cat, François Piolino as the Teapot, Arithmetic and the Frog, and veteran coloratura soprano Annick Massis as Fire, the Princess and the Nightingale, work much harder at giving different voices to different characters.

Stuttgart’s players excel, whether in the sexy trombone-led absurdity of the foxtrot, or the pregnant stillness of the garden. The choral singing is shapely in ‘Adieu, pastourelles!’ and ‘Il est bon, l’enfant’ and the journey of Camille Poul’s Child from fury to confusion, beguilement, fear and remorse is beautifully observed. Ma mère l’Oye (recorded live in concert) makes a fitting epilogue to this touching story of a tantrum and its fantastic aftermath. What a pity Colette’s libretto is not included.


Anna Picard