Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé; La valse

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Daphnis et Chloé; La valse
PERFORMER: Berlin Radio Choir, Berlin PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 447 057-2 DDD
Even the best ballet music is, by its nature, episodic, and Ravel’s voluptuous score for Daphnis and Chloë is no exception. For all the ingenuity with which the music is constructed from limited motifs to give a sense of symphonic unity, obeisance to the symphonic imperatives of shape and structure does not necessarily lead to the best performance. It is better to concentrate on the excitement of the moment, for this is a stupendously exhilarating score in which Ravel fills his ‘vast musical fresco’ with an endless series of brilliant tableaux.

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That said, there is not a great deal to choose between these two recordings. Either would be a safe choice to fill a gap in your collection. But safety, with Daphnis and Chloë, is not really the point – especially now that CDs and modern hi-fi can do justice to the breadth of the orchestral palette and its huge dynamic range.

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To put it another way, you need to send the neighbours on holiday, turn up the volume and count the number of times you shudder and swoon. On this basis, Boulez and the Berlin Philharmonic are the clear winners, and for that I have awarded them an outstanding symbol. There is a frisson here that Chailly and the Concertgebouw do not quite capture, despite the latter’s generally faster tempi. The DG balance has been more carefully engineered – the distant trumpets at the beginning of Part 2 are just one magical example – and the chorus has a meatier texture. Debussy’s Khamma is an imaginative filler on Decca but it rather pales beside La valse on DG – a predictable choice but a stunning performance. Christopher Lambton