Stéphane Denève directs Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé

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COMPOSERS: Maurice Ravel
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Maurice Ravel
WORKS: Daphnis et Chloé; Valses nobles et sentimentales
PERFORMER: SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart; Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Stéphane Denève
CATALOGUE NO: Hänssler 19004CD

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The standard of Stéphane Denève’s previous Ravel disc is maintained here: that’s to say, generally sympathetic and finely played interpretations, marred by the occasional weakness. Denève gives a Daphnis et Chloé with its wide dynamic range and sharp crescendos intact. There is languor where called for, but also doltish clumsiness for the goatherd Dorcon and a real frisson of terror for the god Pan. The two weak spots come on the brink of the dawn music, where the bass line that should lead into the music’s magical low A is inaudible, and at the climax itself, where the main theme is momentarily drowned by brass. But at another danger spot, the a capella chorus, the tuning is impeccable, so no need for any hasty rearrangement of pitch around the ensuing horn call.

The Valses nobles are played elegantly, but again with due note given to their less noble, more astringent moments – the first waltz achieves a fine balance between order and disruption, not least through a careful observance of the dynamic markings. But I do question the slow tempos of the second and fourth waltzes. In the second waltz, the marking crotchet=104 is perfectly playable (Robert Casadesus observes it in his piano recording), and in the fourth the printed crotchet=80 is plainly a misprint from the original piano version’s dotted minim=80: Denève’s tempo is about halfway between the two. In both cases, the relaxations of tempo disturb the balance of the work.

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Roger Nichols