Ravel / Daphnis et Chloé / Munch – Reviewed in 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.  

We actually had three clean Shaded Dog pressings for our shootout of this Ravel classic (which took us somewhere between five and ten years to acquire) with this copy showing itself as CLEARLY the best, with transparency and openness not heard on the others. The sonic grade for side one was at least A++ to A+++, meaning that the sound was Hard To Fault (HTF), but of course there’s no telling if a better copy exists. One must assume such a thing is possible but where would one find such a copy? Clean shaded dogs do not come cheap. 

This copy might not have been the quietest in our shootout at Mint Mnus Minus but it is without a doubt the best sounding. With quiet music such as this surfaces for vintage pressings are always an issue, but we think you will find the superb sound more than compensates.

Side One

A++ to A+++ or better. This work includes a chorus, always a tough test for any recording/pressing to pass. The good news here is that the voices are clear, natural, separate and full-bodied. This is the hallmark of a vintage Golden Age recording — naturalness.

The top is also quite good, with a triangle that sounds harmonically correct and clear. The transparency on this side is superb.

In addition the bass is big and powerful. You will not find many recordings of the work that do a better job of capturing such a large orchestra and chorus, and of course Munch is a master of the French idiom.

Side Two

Almost as good at A++. The sound is big and rich, lively and open, with TONS of depth. There is some smear on the horns from compression or congestion of some kind, so the grade has been lowered to A++. Still, very musical and beautifully performed.

Daphnis et Chloé

Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet with music by Maurice Ravel. Ravel described it as a “symphonie choréographique” (choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from an eponymous romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD. Scott Goddard published a contemporary commentary that discussed the changes to the story that Fokine made to prepare a workable ballet scenario. The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé. The ballet is in one act and three scenes.

Ravel began work on the score in 1909 after a commission from Sergei Diaghilev. It was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris by his Ballets Russes on June 8, 1912. The orchestra was conducted by Pierre Monteux, the choreography was by Michel Fokine, and Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the parts of Daphnis and Chloe. Léon Bakst designed the original sets.

The work is written for a large orchestra consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes (2nd flute also doubling piccolo), alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, wind machine, triangle, bass drum, field drum, castanets, tambourine, celesta, crotales, glockenspiel, 2 harps, wordless choir and strings in eight parts. When Diaghilev took the ballet to London in 1914, he omitted the chorus, which prompted Ravel to send an angry letter to The Times newspaper (see editions of June 9, 10 and 17).

At almost an hour long, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel’s longest work. In spite of the ballet’s time length, a small number of musical leitmotifs gives musical unity to the score. The music, some of the composer’s most passionate, is widely regarded as some of Ravel’s best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement in music. Even during the composer’s lifetime, contemporary commentators described this ballet as his masterpiece for orchestra. He extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites, which can be performed with or without the chorus. The second of the suites, which includes much of the last part of the ballet and concludes with the “Danse generale”, is particularly popular. When the complete work is itself performed live, it is more often in concerts than in staged productions.

Wikipedia