COMPOSERS: Maurice Ravel
ALBUM TITLE: Ravel
WORKS: Daphnis et Chloé
PERFORMER: John Alldis Choir/Roy Gillard: London Philharmonic orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: LPO0059
Was it the Muses, or possibly Apollo, who sat in on the 1980 recording of Daphnis et Chloé by Charles Dutoit and his Montreal forces? Undoubtedly some kind of grace descended from somewhere so that, over 30 years later, this is still the version to beat. Sadly, Bernard Haitink’s does not come near. Partly it’s a matter of acoustics: the Royal Festival Hall would, I think, be few people’s choice as enshrining sonorous magic, and certainly it falls short in this respect of the church of St Eustache in Montreal, the sound in general being rather dull and lifeless.
The other distinguishing factor is that Dutoit’s version had the advantage of being specially recorded, whereas Haitink’s was a 1979 concert taken by BBC Radio 3. There is so much detail in Daphnis, with so much balancing required between primary and secondary material, that a perfect concert recording would need more than Apollo on its side. Here important lines are too often lost, with brass unduly prominent, and the timpanist at one point early on laying waste all around for several bars. The nadir is the always terrifying juncture between the end of the unaccompanied chromatic chorus and the first horn call. Have the chorus gone flat? Here, yes, and by a full semitone. Did no one responsible for this disc notice this authentically Schoenbergian moment? Or are we critics presumed to be deaf to such things?