La mer – three symphonic sketches Ravel
Ma mere l’oye – Suite
La valse – poème chorégraphique
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 20 May 2010 in Seoul Arts Center, South Korea
CD No: DG 476 449-8 Duration: 54 minutes Reviewed: October 2011
Seoul Philharmonic/Myung-Whun Chung – La mer, Mother Goose, La valse [Deutsche Grammophon]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
This is a Seoul special. Good to hear an orchestra that may not be considered world-class playing with such confidence and character. From the opening of La mer, and aided by excellent, tangible sound, the players bring distinction to their task, Myung-Whun Chung creating pregnant anticipation as Dawn folds into Midday with musical certainty, vibrant textures and deep feeling. The Seoul Philharmonic was founded in 1948 and, since 2005, is “re-born” under Chung’s music directorship. Certainly the Seoul players bring flair and painstaking attention to detail; one also senses a deep-seated passion to engage with the music and do it proud. La mer is a conspicuous success in its clarity, atmosphere and flexibility; a fine ebb and flow informs this exacting and engaging performance, which is also alive to ominous and dramatic aspects. For the record, in the ‘Dialogue between the Wind and the Sea’ finale, Chung chooses to omit the ad lib brass fanfares giving the strings a chance to swell, an opportunity gratefully taken.
La mer was recorded under studio conditions. The two Ravel items, both from concerts, reveal very little audience noise. Mother Goose ravishes the ear in this sensitive and suggestive performance – the final ‘Fairy Garden’ is bewitchingly beautiful. The cataclysmic La valse (1920), Ravel destroying the waltz so evocative of 19th-century Vienna through the destructive force of World War One, is here languorous and potent, if just occasionally its course is diverted from. Once into their stride, Chung and his orchestra ensure a graphic dénouement, ‘the waltz’ itself clinging on for dear life. Having said that the Seoul Philharmonic may not be considered world-class, on this showing, it is.