Daphnis et Chloé
Orchestre Philharmonique et Choeur
de Radio France
Int. Release 01 Aug. 2006
CD DDD 0289 477 5706 1 GH
Myung-Whun Chung and his orchestra explore Ravel’s cosmos of orchestral colors
There are some lovely things in this new "Daphnis et Chloé" and the recording . . . is both sumptuous and detailed. Myung-Whun Chung and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France clearly have a very close rapport ¿ the flexibility of the phrasing is one of the most striking features of the performance. From the start, Chung establishes the atmosphere well, and the slower music is generally more successful in this performance . . . I enjoyed much of this performance ¿ Chung is a most refined musician and he draws playing of sensitivity and imagination from his orchestra.
Kein Mangel . . . an magischem Fin-de-Siècle-Exorzismus in dieser Einspielung und ebenso wenig an sensualistischer Wollust bei plastischer Instrumentalpräzision und ausgewogener Balance. Ungewöhnlich informativ das Begleitheft mit dem detaillierten Szenario und den exakten Minutenangaben der Verweise im Textkommentar von Deborah Mawer.
Der durch seine langjährige Tätigkeit in Paris zu einem Kenner des französischen Repertoires herangereifte Dirigent lotet die exquisiten koloristischen Reize von Ravels Musik (etwa die schillernden, irisierenden Klangflächen des »Lever du jour«) ebenso gekonnt aus wie ihre pulsierende Rhythmik; dabei gelingt es ihm, bei aller Sorgfalt im Detail stets den grossen Duktus zu bewahren . . . Alles in allem ist dies eine sehr hörenswerte Interpretation, die die Geschichte von der Trennung und Wiedervereinigung des mythologischen Liebespaars so plastisch evoziert, dass man auf die Lektüre des ¿ im Booklet wiedergegebenen ¿ Szenarios von Michail Fokin kaum angewiesen ist.
. . . [Chung] peint à fresque selon son c¿ur. Une véritable "symphonie chorégraphique" où priment le mouvement et le rebond plutôt qu'un savant amalgame des sortilèges de l'orchestre ravélien . . . Chung préfère les contours fabuleux et la douceur d'une chimère. L'amplitude des crescendos, la vigueur de la scansion, la beauté (et la discipline!) des ch¿urs "irréels" caractérisent ce climat onirique très soigné.
Deutsche Grammophon possède déjà à son catalogue deux exceptionnelles version de «Daphnis et Chloé», celles d'Abbado (Orchestre symphonique de Londres) et de Boulez (Philharmonique de Berlin), vraisemblablement les deux références modernes. La première se distingue par sa sensualité et un certain ton post-romantique qui opère un rapprochement inattendu entre Ravel et Mahler, la deuxième vaut par un équilibre entre esprit d'analyse et une force d'expression poussée jusqu'à la furie dans la Danse générale . . . c'est bien le même type de travail que l'on peut apprécier ici: un travail très technique et minutieux, une attention portée au moindre détail et au dosage des sonorités . . . Là où Chung se montre souverain, c'est dans les passages les plus mystérieux où Ravel compose les musiques immatérielles de la nuit . . . Il se montre particulièrement sensible à cet aspect peut-être un peu négligé de Ravel, le sens du frissonnement de la nature. On trouvera d'autre éléments de satisfaction: Chung sait mettre en valeur avec une certain sensualité le sens mélodique du compositeur . . .
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé
A Fantasy Tale of Time and Place
Choreographer George Balanchine (a long-standing admirer of Ravel's music) found common ground between ballets and butterflies: both simply lived for their own day. This view is most apt for Maurice Ravel's one-act ballet Daphnis et Chloé, which was to prove especially fragile and fleeting in its Ballets Russes production under Serge Diaghilev, first given in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 8 June 1912; indeed, it was a ballet that almost did not happen. Its première apart, Daphnis evokes times and places that are at once representational and imaginary, specific and elusive: as Ravel himself remarked, according to his biographer Roland-Manuel, if an artist has an idea to express, this will never develop in a more original fashion than through his "unintended unfaithfulness" in revisiting past models.
In the culturally luxuriant years preceding World War I, Daphnis was part of a vogue catalyzed by the influential American dancer Isadora Duncan that thrived upon exploring, and reinventing, ideas of ancient Greece. Contemporary Greek-inspired creations included Cléopâtre (1909, with music by Anton Arensky and other Russian composers) and Narcisse (1911, music by Nikolai Tcherepnin), which rubbed shoulders in the Ballets Russes repertoire with better-known works such as Stravinsky's Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) and the extravagantly oriental Shéhérazade (with Rimsky-Korsakov's music), first produced in 1910 and later included in the same programme as Daphnis. For Ravel, Daphnis followed more modest balletic success earlier in 1912 with Ma Mère l'Oye and Adélaïde (to the music of Valses nobles et sentimentales), both set to his own scenarios.
Each collaborator for Daphnis approached Greekness eclectically: Ravel came to the mythic tale of pastoral love notated by Longus around 200 AD via the delightful French translation by the 16th-century scholar Jacques Amyot, and was influenced by paintings of the 18th-century artist François Boucher, as well as by more recent Russian music. Choreographer, and main librettist, Michel Fokine sought a more literal interpretation, striving to revivify bas-reliefs and angular profiles of dancers depicted on Attic vases, while the prolific set and costume designer Léon Bakst blended the heady exoticism of Classical Greece with the colder climes of the Russian Steppes.
Although the respected critic Emile Vuillermoz considered that, as a product, "the synthesis of Daphnis et Chloé was ... absolutely complete", the process was fraught with difficulties: French-Russian language barriers; serious delays in Ravel's composition (an initial score having been completed by May 1910); Diaghilev's unprofessional appropriation of Bakst's original sets for another ballet, his denying Fokine sufficient rehearsal time and his subsequent attempts to postpone, even cancel, the ballet. Against the odds, Daphnis was eventually realized for just two performances in 1912 (alongside Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune), but its most enduring legacy has proved to be Ravel's score, functioning, as painter Alexandre Benois thought music within ballet should, as a work's "centre of gravity".
Ravel's "Introduction" powerfully sets the primordial and distant scene by means of Pythagorean hollow fifths on muted strings, stacked upon a low A in the double basses and cellos, and capped by the exotic raised fourth that launches the mysterious Nymphs' theme on solo flute. An off-stage chorus, intoning quasi-ecclesiastically upon adjacent pitches, begins its Greek-style, but wordless - preliterate - commentary. There follows a hymn to nature with a portentous repeated modal figure, danced by maidens and youths who offer gifts at the altar of the Nymphs - the "Danse religieuse". At the eerie close of Part I, three wind cadenzas (flute, horn, clarinet) personify the ancient, statuesque Nymphs as they acquire angular movement to invoke Pan, after which the unworldly a cappella chorus is heard. A climactic elemental moment to illustrate immortal power concludes Part II, as Pan intervenes to rescue Chloé from her pirate abductors; this awesome earth-splitting sonority (coming just before the intricate, rippling dawn-break that begins Part III) features full brass, string glissandos and the fearsome eoliphone, or wind machine.
Against this intentionally primitive backdrop, the title characters of Daphnis and Chloé are foregrounded, with a classic-romantic elegance and full range of emotional nuance, from naïve happiness, through sorrow and despair, to bliss. In the competition to secure a kiss from Chloé, the crude efforts of the goatherd Dorcon ("Danse grotesque de Dorcon"), portrayed by comic bassoons in stop-start fashion with wrong-note effects, are contrasted by Daphnis's gracefully athletic dancing, articulated by flute ("Danse légère et gracieuse de Daphnis"). With lilting regular metre and balanced phrases in a classical major-key tonality, Daphnis performs impressive jumps and appears momentarily suspended in mid-air by Ravel's rocket-like harp glissandos that are then checked by rests. Such gravity-defying leaps were the hallmark of Vaslav Nijinsky, who danced the role, and whose performance in Le Pavillon d'Armide (1909) had probably first inspired Ravel's composition.
Chloé's waltz-like music, imbued with a special sensitivity, is first aired just before Dorcon's dance and reaches its anguished extreme, with poignant yearning sighs, during her ordeal in Part II ("Danse suppliante de Chloé"). Her dancing later peaks in an elated solo counterpointed by Pan's virtuosic, yet melancholic, pipe (solo flute again). (This role was created exquisitely by Tamara Karsavina.) Similarly, Chloé's music contrasts with that of the veiled Lycénion, temptress of Daphnis. Lycénion's dangerously attractive, serpent-like, qualities are well conveyed by Ravel's use of an exotic pentatonic figure, which descends into slippery chromaticism.
It is this unstable chromatic writing to signify risk that directs the two most exciting crowd scenes, for full orchestral palette: the pirates' percussive "Danse guerrière" in Part II (with a stylistic nod to Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances"), and the "Danse générale" in irregular 5/4 metre, spiced by Rimsky's Scheherazade, that clinches the final euphoric whirlwind.
For all its mixture of things foreign and past ("othernesses" of the elsewhere and erstwhile), Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé is, paradoxically, steeped in its own time: that is, the sophisticated, opulent Paris of la Belle Epoque. As a manifestation of early Modernism it has a self-awareness of its position in history, influenced by Diaghilev's balletic revolution, the Paris Exhibitions (1889 and 1900) and echoes of Symbolism. Ironically, that brief pre-war period is for us just as alluring and yet irretrievable as that of ancient Greece, but Ravel's sumptuously sensual and impressionistic score certainly enables us to experience something of the immediacy of being there.