Daphnis et Chloé Suites 1 & 2
Laura Aikin (soprano)
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (baritone)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 9 April, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
The Papal funeral the day before added poignancy to the programming of Fauré’s Requiem, and this restrained and gentle work provided welcome contrast from the sometimes overheated effusions of the media reporting from the Vatican. One imagines that this traditionalist Pope would have appreciated Fauré’s tribute to medieval plainsong and High Renaissance polyphony, which emerged with particular clarity in this performance.
The work began in darkness, the Introit propelled by a restless walking bass; the mood was not dispelled by the chaste vocal counterpoint of sopranos and tenors in the ‘Offertorium’, and it was only with the entrance of the violins in the ‘Sanctus’ that the music ascended into the realms of heavenly rest. Sadly, the ill-fitting vocal soloists hampered the performance. New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a giant redwood of a man; planted on stage, his vocal performance was rich, beautifully modulated – yet utterly without character. Laura Aikin was better in the ‘Pie Jesu’, yet her operatic vibrato seemed affected in a context where simplicity was required; perhaps aware of this, she looked uncomfortable. The London Philharmonic Choir sang well, but lacked absolute security.
It seems likely that more rehearsal time was spent on Ravel’s two Daphnis suites, which were sensational. Emmanuel Krivine’s attention to detail was evident in the transparent textures of the opening ‘Nocturne’, and the ethereal choral ‘Interlude’, where the shifting, clouded harmonies were delivered with wonderful assurance. The liquid woodwind figuration in ‘Lever du Jour’ was delightful, building to ravishing climaxes; Celia Chambers gave an atmospheric, breathy openness to the famous flute solo. The fast music of the ‘Danses guerrière and générale’ was whip-taut, every sudden swirl and jazzy stab easy and exact, with a pin-sharp sound perfect for Ravel’s machine-age fantasias. The same virtues were brought to Korngold’s precocious Schauspiel Overture, but to considerably less effect; for all its remarkable harmonic assurance, the work suffers from a youthful lack of focus when compared to the composer’s later achievements.