ALBUM TITLE: Seiji Ozawa Conducts Ravel
WORKS: L’enfant et les sortilèges; Alborada del gracioso; Shéhérazade
PERFORMER: Isabel Leonard, Susan Graham, Anna Christy, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt; Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 478 6760
Casting The Child in Ravel’s opera today is not easy, as the light, slightly acidic French sopranos Ravel knew are no longer produced. Here, Isabel Leonard’s voice is really too richly feminine. The best singing comes from Anna Christy as Fire, Princess and Nightingale, and from the very experienced Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as Teapot, Frog, and a splendid Arithmetic. Not surprisingly in a concert performance of this very tricky score, not everything is in place; also there’s a clumsy loss of atmosphere in the silent bar before the wonderul, slow horn solo in Part 2, and at one intimate moment shortly afterwards an unwanted bell suddenly rings.
Seiji Ozawa’s tempo for the outer sections of Alborada is slightly ponderous, and in the central climaxes the brass overpower the strings, while the bassoon solo is curiously unconvincing. Shéhérazade is much better. Susan Graham has absolutely the right voice for this music and knows it well. Her French is fine and I’m delighted she respects Ravel’s carefully notated vocal slides. Again, Ozawa might occasionally have obeyed Strauss’s injunction never to look encouragingly at the brass, though their wide ‘hairpin’ on ‘immense oiseau de nuit’ is a stirring moment. But at the end of the last song – I can’t believe I’m typing this – in the B/C sharp/D sharp on flute and clarinet, the C sharp is simply missing… Roger Nichols