BSO Classics: Boston Symphony/Levine – Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé

0 of 5 stars

Daphnis et Chloé

Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Recorded 5 & 6 October 2007 in Symphony Hall, Boston

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2009
[CD/SACD Hybrid]
Duration: 55 minutes

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has a conspicuous ‘French Connection’. In terms of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, as revealed by Music Director James Levine in his contribution to the booklet, the Second Suite from the ballet reached Boston as early as 1917 (Karl Muck conducting; the first performance of the complete work was in 1912, in Paris). Charles Munch made a classic recording of it in Boston in 1955 (and a second version in the early 1960s) and in more recent times Seiji Ozawa and Bernard Haitink have made Boston versions (the Haitink especially fine).

James Levine maintains the tradition. This is an outstanding performance, superbly played and recorded. One would have liked some ambience before the music begins; as it is we are disconcertingly plunged straight into the quiet and mysterious opening bars. From there, there is no looking back. The delicacy, sensitivity nimbleness and power of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is in itself a pleasure; so too the recorded sound – tangible, spacious and vivid, with a sensual glow ideal for this ravishing and suggestive music.

Levine’s conducting is measured enough in the slower music for these passages to ooze love (he obviously adores the piece); and if that sounds too wallowing, rest assured that the more dramatic pages are suitably volatile and exciting; and there’s no lack of suspense throughout. The Boston Symphony’s luminous sound and transparent textures are ideal for this music. The recording (engineered by John Newton, who has been responsible for the SACD re-mastering of RCA’s Living Stereo catalogue) ensures that a wide dynamic range is accommodated within a definable and notable acoustic, one with a natural front-to-back perspective, which perfectly captures the quietest of bass drum rolls and, without harshness, the most resplendent of climaxes. Interpretatively, rather than from an audiophile aspect, more incisive bass drum and timpani strokes would have been welcome in places (not least in the ‘Pirates’ Dance’), but the (left-positioned) double basses have real presence and the clarity of harps and antiphonal violins brings much joy!

The showpiece moments, the aforementioned Pirates’ section and the Second Suite itself (the last third of the ballet) are all brought off with virtuoso distinction (maybe ‘Sunrise’ moves just a little quickly and without quite the fullest sensation of darkness to light) but Elizabeth Rowe has all time she needs in the extended flute solo, and the closing ‘Danse générale’ is thrilling (greeted by ecstatic applause); elsewhere there is much to transport the senses. This is a very distinguished start to the Boston Symphony’s own label; a top-class marker has been set.

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