François-Xavier Roth conducts Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Daphnis et Chloé
PERFORMER: Ensemble Aedes; Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth

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There are some excellent things on this disc: full rein given to the ballet’s explosive side, often underplayed; as part of that, the wide range observed in crescendo markings, the underplaying of which Ravel himself complained about; splendidly rude bassoons for Dorcon’s clumsy dance; and beautiful flute playing from Marion Ralincourt, rightly credited on the booklet cover. But sadly this is as much as I can really say in favour of a performance which I was so eagerly looking forward to.

Perhaps the main problem is balance. At one point in the final ‘Bacchanale’ the muted horns, then trumpets, are simply inaudible and, even at the moment when Daphnis pledges his faith to Chloé, the wonderful trumpet octave D sharps don’t blaze out as they should. One of a conductor’s main problems with the work is the amount of secondary detail it contains, often technically demanding, such as the fast woodwind demisemiquavers in the dawn music, and here this detail too often takes over from what should be the main idea. My hackles also began to rise as early as page four of the score where, as Roth does again later, he interprets ‘Animez progressivement’ as ‘speed up suddenly and then hold it’. No! But the hackles went shoulder high where the bar introducing the unaccompanied choir, marked ‘Tout s’éteint’ (total silence), features a held low E to give the sopranos their note. ‘Unacceptable’ seems to be a buzz word these days. In this case I prefer ‘unforgivable’.

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Roger Nichols