Notes and Editorial Reviews
Marvellous playing, glowing sound, inspired coupling.
This is a wonderful new performance of
Daphnis et Chloé, Maurice Ravel’s greatest orchestral achievement. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was in top form when these live performances were committed to disc, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was equally outstanding. Bernard Haitink conducts with great skill, though not always with magic. The CD’s volume level is surprisingly low - I had to turn the volume up to twice my usual level - but, once a satisfactory volume is found, the sonics are magnificent. If this is all you need to hear before making your investment, buy with confidence.
I have more to say, of course. Begin at the opening of
Daphnis: a marvelous reading of these opening pages, with perfectly-judged flute and horn solos. Most striking, however, is the contribution of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. They will return later, in the
a capella introduction of the ballet’s second part, with an even bigger part and even more stunning results. These singers obtain more mystery and beauty from a series of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ than most can from any number of lines of text. Credit must be given to the outstanding chorus master, Duain Wolfe, who has been with the Chicago Symphony since 1994, and to the individuals making up the Chicago Symphony Chorus, who are each listed in the booklet.
If the opening scene is marvelous and the ensuing dance seductive, the last few cues in the first part of the ballet tend to drag a little. This is not necessarily the result of slow tempi-indeed, Haitink often takes a faster pace than most of my references-but for whatever reason a sort of dead spot arises here. The loss of interest may, however, be only be obvious to listeners with considerable prior experience with the work: I dare say that, after hearing Pierre Boulez’ spectacular account with the Berlin Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon, all other recordings have been spoiled for me. Over the rest of the ballet, Bernard Haitink conducts with a freedom and, well, Frenchness that belies his stolid Germanic reputation.
After the chorus returns to save the day in Part II’s three-minute opening cue, Haitink leads a slowly-paced battle scene which despite (or perhaps because of) its tempo achieves a very welcome suspense. I must also note that this take yields a great wealth of orchestral detail; I heard much here that I had not before.
The legendary sunrise takes flight admirably, if not unforgettably, and the flute solo afterward is dispatched with perfection by Mathieu Dufour. The final dance is a madcap conclusion, and the Chicago Symphony and Haitink really ‘let it all hang out.’ It is a most satisfactory finale to a most satisfactory performance.
If the above summary does not perhaps do this playing justice, it is because I have neglected to mention the warm and crystal-clear sound. With many thanks to the engineers, we are able to hear everything going on in the orchestra at all times, and I learned of an abundance of details which were quite new to me. Daphnis seems to be a recording technician’s showpiece-the Boulez recording on DG offers some of the most awe-inspiring sound I have ever heard-and this CD is no exception, though not necessarily the exemplar (that’s still Boulez). Happily the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is so fine that its world-class playing makes even the aforementioned ‘dead spot’ enjoyable.
This is probably the best
Daphnis in years: it features better playing and sharper focus than the Bordeaux/Petitgirard outing on Naxos, it is more warmly recorded and more memorable than the Gielen reissues on Hänssler and (in the United States) Arte Nova, and it is infinitely more interesting than the brisk, emotionless take by Jun Märkl and the Orchestre National de Lyon, which also featured downright unpleasant choral work.
The unusual but rather inspired coupling is Francis Poulenc’s marvelous
Gloria. New listeners will love this jocular music, by turns peppy and probing, and some may recognize, in some of the brass writing, the influence of Janá?ek. An old Leonard Bernstein album couples Poulenc’s
Gloria with Janá?ek’s Glagolitic Mass, and frankly the idea is brilliant.
Once again we get to hear the very fine Chicago Symphony Chorus in absolutely top form, with the addition of soprano Jessica Rivera, a young American singer who specializes in contemporary music. Rivera, a lyric soprano with a bright, clear, simply beautiful tone, sings her solo in the third part so well that I found myself eagerly hunting down discographies online. (Some orchestra needs to hurry up and get her in the studio for a Verdi
Requiem, and perhaps a turn as Musetta.) The Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra combine to really ‘sell’ the rest of this lovably eccentric work, which really does deserve a firmer place in the repertoire.
There are still reference versions of
et Chloé which will go untouched by this recording - but even if you have Boulez in Berlin, Dutoit in Montreal or Monteux in London, this new CD from Chicago should be a welcome supplement to your collection. The Poulenc coupling is unique and utterly wonderful, the playing and singing is marvelous, and the booklet is lavishly designed (if not unusually informative). CSO Resound has scored a decisive hit releasing these live recordings for our home enjoyment, and with releases like this it helps to vindicate the growing trend of orchestras operating their own record labels. With productions of this calibre, who needs major labels?
-- Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International
Bernard Haitink's somewhat stogy tempo for the opening movement of Poulenc's Gloria (Gloria in excelsis deo) initially raises fears of a dull performance to come. But such concerns are soon alleviated as he picks up the pace from there on. There's certainly nothing dull about the singing: Jessica Rivera's light, bright voice ideally suits Poulenc's entrancing Domine Deus solo, while the Chicago Symphony Chorus sounds robust and energized, with admirable focus on tone and diction.
These same qualities present even more strongly in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, especially in the bewitching wordless choral passage at the end of Part 1. The chorus' use of the "oo" vowel enhances the music's haunting atmosphere. Haitink sounds fully in his element, conducting this very French masterpiece with a refreshing freedom and alacrity you don't often hear from him in the German symphonic repertoire. His flowing tempos (ex: in the Danse religieuse) occasionally are reminiscent of Munch. And while Haitink doesn't match Munch's intensity (or for that matter Martinon's or Bernstein's) in the more dramatic passages, he holds his own quite well.
It certainly helps that he's at the helm of the Chicago Symphony (an orchestra we rarely hear in this music), and the ensemble plays magnificently for him. The recording, while not up to the finest studio quality, presents a vivid recreation of a concert in Chicago's Orchestra Hall, with solid imaging and clear detail (especially in SACD stereo). Haitink's Daphnis doesn't displace the classic versions, but it's very good, and coupled with the Poulenc makes for a highly enjoyable disc.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Gloria in G major by Francis Poulenc
Jessica Rivera (Soprano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra,
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1959; France
Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel
Chicago Symphony Orchestra,
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1909-1912; France
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