Debussy
Danses *
Le jet d’eau **
Trois ballades de François Villon **
Ravel
Shéhérazade ***
Pavane pour une Infante défunte
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Menuet antique
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano) ***

Alison Hagley (soprano) **

Lisa Wellbaum (harp) *

The Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre Boulez

Recorded in April 1999, Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland
CD No: DG 471 614-2
Duration: 76 minutes
Reviewed: May 2004
DG has held back these recordings rather a long time. All from April 1999, there’s a composite nature to the programming that seems more the product of numerous end-of-session takes. The performances though are superb although there’s a bit of a qualm over the sound quality in that the too-ambient acoustic, while providing an alluring glow and lively detailing, also imparts edgy, synthetic-sounding tones in fortissimos. But the music-making is admirable, with much that is moving and memorable.
Anne Sofie von Otter has all the wonderment and easeful soaring needed for Shéhérazade, a quiet ecstasy, and Boulez coaxes typically refined and clear textures from the Cleveland Orchestra, its expressive warmth adding much to the involving atmosphere. The varied moods of the long first song “Asie” are captured well, and both “La flûte enchantée” and “L’indifférent” are magically conveyed. Le Tombeau de Couperin is sensitively handled, the dance rhythms buoyant, the tempos encompassing of significant musical articulation; very special in its tenderness is the Menuet. The superb oboe-playing is uncredited; it is presumably John Mack. A similar care informs the Pavane, this is music-making that doesn’t make a fuss yet reveals Ravel’s innermost secrets, and Menuet antique is as fastidious as it is perfectly timed as it is lovingly shaped.
The Debussy selection begins with the harp dances, very affecting in their cool demeanour and rhythmic vitality, the harp strings lightly touched by Lisa Wellbaum. Boulez is a master of the text with heart and head in perfect accord. Alison Hagley may seem a little colourless (certainly aside Otter) but she has the measure of the songs in terms of shape and sensibility. I just wish that Boulez had allowed a little more time for the second Villon setting, the first three lines come and go without the full relish of the melodic line. A small point, though.
Reservations about the sound aside, this is a wonderful record of deeply intelligent and expressive performances.

 

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