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Enjoy the Music, April 2012

Intensely ardent and Romantic, Petitgirard emphasizes the sexual longing of the main characters—desire awakened, frustrated, and then fulfilled. To do this, he relies on slower tempos and draws out the darker shades of Ravel’s orchestration…for Petitgirard, we seem to be sitting in the first row. © 2012 Enjoy the Music Read complete review

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, March 2010

There is no doubt that Naxos produces more new recordings than any other record company, at least three or more of which I have the opportunity to hear and review each month…but once in a while a disc stands out in one category or the other. Such is the case with this 2006 recording of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe ballet in terms of sound.

Not that there is anything wrong with the performance. Petitgirard does a splendid job conveying the varying emotional subtleties of this pastoral Greek tale. It's just that the Naxos audio engineers have captured its sound with such a wide frequency response and such an ample dynamic range that the sonics tend to overshadow the musical interpretation. In fact, this is a clear case where a little of something, like the dynamics, may go a long way. Things start off very softly, so you can't blame the listener for wanting to turn up the volume, which would be a mistake because a few moments later the listener will be blown from his seat. [But since Ravel’s dynamic range is wide, Naxos has successfully captured them in this recording. – Ed]

Penguin Guide, January 2009

This most magical of scores has inspired some great recording is competitive. It lacks the absolute refinement of the very best and it does not match in terms of heady atmosphere Munch’s intoxicating account (still the best). Nevertheless, it is very well characterized and individual, generating good, earthly excitement in the right places. The recording is wide-ranging and vivid, if not as sumptuous as the best.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, June 2007

"Daphnis and Chloé is not only Ravel's longest work: it contains some of the most passionate and lush music he wrote. Laurent Petitgirard and his Bordeaux forces do it full justice. Where it needs to be, the performance is powerful, sweeping, intimate, and erotically charged; and the recording is magnificent.... I can tell you without hesitation that the Naxos entry is really outstanding; in fact, I'd go so far as to call it thrilling. ...This Daphnis and Chloé can hold its own against any of them, and at Naxos's budget price, it's a steal."

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Naxos seem to have been featuring an increasing number of French regional orchestras on their recent releases. For this recording of the complete Daphnis they have turned to the Bordeaux orchestra.

One of Ravel’s finest scores the ballet Daphnis et Chloé was written to a commission from Serge Diaghilev whose brilliant Ballets russes were enjoying a immense success during their first Paris season. The impresario was enthusiastic to secure new works for the following year from leading French composers. Ravel started work in June 1909, using an adaptation of the ancient Greek tale by Longus, which had been prepared by choreographer Mikhail Fokine. Progress was erratic and did not reach the stage for another three years. Many choreographers have been attracted to Daphnis; most notably Sir Frederick Ashton with a 1951 adaptation for the distinguished duo of Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes.

Ravel described Daphnis as a "symphonie choréographique" though Diaghilev complained that it was more "symphonique" than "choréographique." At a playing time of around 50 to 60 minutes, it is Ravel’s longest work. He scored it for a large orchestra, including a wide variety of percussion, with a wordless mixed chorus, heard both onstage and offstage.

The music had its greatest success in concert and with recordings of the two orchestral suites that Ravel arranged, with only the minimum of changes, from the full score:

• Suite d'orchestre No.1: Nocturne, Interlude, Danse guerrière.
• Suite d'orchestre No.2: Lever du jour, Pantomime, Danse générale/Bacchanale.

This Naxos recording of the complete three-act ballet includes the significant choral parts.

The opening Introduction et danse réligieuse, is gloriously atmospheric. Petitgirard gradually builds up to a remarkable intensity at 2:37 (track 1). The religious dance rises to an impressive crescendo between 7:48-8:01 (track 1). In the scene Les jeunes filles attirent Daphnis the girls amuse with a lively and alluring dance. Dorcon's grotesque dance in the score Daphnis s’approche tendrement de Chloé is characterful with a real sense of wretched awkwardness. Daphnis’s dance for Chloé is charming and sensual and the laughing crowd is realistically portrayed at 5:54-5:59 (track 3). The wordless chorus 0:44-0:49 (track 4) is extremely effective in the scene Les rires s’interrompent. Temptress Lyceion and her dance of veils is highly successful. The fearful rumbling sounds of approaching conflict break out at 3:20 (track 4) with the terrifying appearance of the pirates. In Une lumière irréelle enveloppe le paysage we hear music of an eerie and sinister character that pervades the disturbing scene. The wordless chorus that covers the scene-change in Derrière la scene on entend des voix is superbly performed with considerable vigour and character.

In the opening scene Animé et rude of the second act the orchestra launches off with terrifying force straight from the opening bars. The Pirates busying themselves with their plunder are fearsomely portrayed. The scene Bryaxis ordonne d’amener la captive is blissful and dreamy. At 4:26-5:07 and 6:07-6:25 (track 8) Petitgirard expertly shifts the gentle mood to one of urgent excitement.

In the first scene, Lever de jour in the third and final act we hear love music of the highest quality. The music to the scene Le vieux berger Lammon is of a more reflective nature, infused with woodwind; especially from the flute of Samuel Coles. In the final scene I was struck by the confident and sturdy playing, effortless changing from one contrasting mood to another. Petitgirard, after a gradual build-up at 2:50-3:51 (track 11), emphasises the wild and voluptuous nature of the dizzily swirling bacchanalian dance that provides a wonderful conclusion to the score.

When selecting a complete account of this ballet the deliciously dramatic performance from Pierre Monteux with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Chorus of the Royal Opera House on Decca goes straight to the very top rank of recommended versions. Monteux and his players prove to be in superb form providing sumptuous playing in familiar music for which they clearly have a great affection. The sound quality of this re-issue I found vivid and well balanced, belying its near fifty years. It has been reported to me that listening tests do not show any obvious difference in sound quality between this Monteux re-issue and its original CD release. Undoubtedly this was a very special Kingsway Hall recording session, from the spring of 1959, that caught Monteux’s crack London orchestra in their most inspired form, fully validating its selection as one of their recently re-issued ‘Legendary Recording’ series on Decca ‘The Originals’ 475 7525. The couplings of the Rapsodie espagnole and Pavane add to the desirability of this magnificent disc.

Close behind Monteux on Decca is the evergreen 1950s account from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on RCA 09026 61846-2. Munch and his Boston players are in tremendous form offering an electrifying performance that is vitally dramatic and sharply coloured. The recording is one of the legendary RCA Living Stereo series and has been remastered and re-issued on a hybrid SACD 82876-61388-2.

The recently released 2004 Paris account from Myung-Whun Chung and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France on Deutsche Grammophon 477 5706 does not inspire. Although the disc has been well received in some quarters I can find nothing remarkable here. Chung’s warmly recorded performance disappoints and pales greatly by comparison with Monteux on Decca and Munch on RCA. The reading from Chung lacks passion and vitality, his chosen tempos seem far too slow and he is never a serious contender as a recommended version.

There is plenty to enjoy here on this excellently performed and recorded Naxos release. Keith Anderson provides fine documentation, however, many friends have commented that the small type is getting really difficult to read. Recorded in 2002 at the Franklin Hall in Bordeaux the engineers have supplied warm, vivid and well balanced sound quality. Conductor, orchestra and chorus may be unfamiliar names to many but don’t be put off. They make beautiful music and prove more than a match for many of the better known competition in this score, such as: Dutoit on Decca; Nagano on Erato; Rattle on EMI Classics; Tortelier on Chandos and Ozawa on Deutsche Grammophon Entrée.

This superb Naxos release will sit comfortably on the shelf alongside my treasured versions from Monteux on Decca and Munch on RCA.

American Record Guide, April 2007

A glance at a large on-line CD catalog will tell you that this newcomer faces tough competition. There are about 30 stereo recordings (give or take half a dozen), ranging from many with big name conductors and world class orchestras to a few with great French conductors leading French orchestras who grew up with this music. Is there a point to this newcomer, cast with unknowns (to me, anyway), other than to assure that Naxos finally has a complete Daphnis in its catalog?

Without question. It has been argued that Ravel's joined-at-the-hip association with Debussy's Impressionism is exaggerated, and that Ravel was a modernist or neoclassicist. Laurent Petitgirard takes the argument a step further by presenting this red-blooded Daphnis et Chloe as an argument that the meticulous French master was a neoromantic. Daphnis has enjoyed most of its fame as a concert work, but this performance reminds us that Ravel's masterwork is a great piece of story­telling. Certainly, few performances of Daphnis make it so easy to picture the choreography, as Petitgirard's baton blows away the customary mist and invites us inside a work we are accustomed to admiring from the meta­physical distance consigned by Impressionism. Tempos are slow, especially before the major choral interlude. Later, speeds pick up­though they're never among the fastest on record-and so does the excitement level. Rhythm and meter are clearer than I've heard before in this piece. Lines are more contoured, solo instruments stand out more, textures are fuller and weightier, and colors are brighter and more defined. The result is a passionate drama occurring in real time and space.

That we are about to hear something different is obvious from the plangent opening horn call, so redolent of the old French whine, followed by a piercing oboe, and a violin section that delineates its rhythmic figures rather than create a mist with them. The first crescendo is huge. Lines and solo parts have more clarity than is customary, and the trumpet fanfare that opens 'Les Jeunes Filles' is broad. Attacks and phrases are more definite in shape than usual, but where Petitgirard really makes us stiffen our shoulders is in 'Daphnis s'approache', which starts out more slowly and deliberately than I've ever heard it. The phrasing here is dramatic and tender, as if placed carefully by an ardent, but shy, admirer, and the little woodwind fanfares are more majestic than I've ever heard them. (Several of the seductive dances are treated this way.) The drums that follow are very audible and almost primitive. The only miscalculation is the too subdued trombone glissandos.

In 'Une Lumiere Irrecelle' the lines are much clearer than usual because of the slow tempo and the careful balances. The chorus in 'Derriere la Scene' sounds so "choral" and deliberate that this section takes on more stature than it usually does. Note the unusual clarity of the sopranos' entrance and of the voicing later on. The next two sections are very powerful, with slow, dramatic, sometimes jagged, phrasing in 'Bryaxis Ordonne' and thrusting downward accents in 'Lever du Jour'. The extended flute episode is slow and grand, and the final moments are slightly slower than usual but at no loss of excitement.

The Bordeaux orchestra sometimes sounds not quite world class, but this is of no real consequence. The wide open, slightly forward recording is terrific-one of the best from Naxos. Keith Anderson's notes are strong both on the history of Daphnis and the breakdown of the story it tells.

Because Petitgirard is blazing new interpretive territory (as far as I know), his recording stands in its own space and demands that lovers of Daphnis at least hear it. Those interested in the more "standard" recordings might start with the two from Munch and the Boston Symphony, particularly the first, with those gorgeous BSO strings and shockingly great 1954 sound. Alongside Munch stands Maazel's underrated supple beauty and the very dramatic Boulez. The fine all-French recordings include the idiomatic Cluytens and Martinon. Three respectable ones with French conductors and non-Gallic orchestras are the neoclassical, lightish Monteux (London Symphony), the dark Tortelier (Ulster) and the beautiful but rather stiff Dutoit (Montreal). Very interesting is the impetuous, eager-to-get-out-of-its-own-way Bernstein. The ones I'd like to know are Haitink, Nagano, Previn, and Gielen. Among those I don't care for are the Ansermet (though favored by many critics, it never comes together for me), Abbado, Schwarz, and Levine's waste of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Recordings of Ravel’s complete ballet are quite rare. You are more likely to know the music through the two suites which Ravel compiled some years later. Of these the second uses all of the music from Part 3 of the ballet. There are three parts to this hour long ballet. There are nine scenes in total. The music, more or less, plays without a break.

The story tells of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe in what is known as the Graeco-Roman romance by the 2nd century poet Longus. The setting is the Isle of Lesbos where the couple face various misfortunes. These include Chloe’s abduction by pirates in scene IV only to be re-united with Daphnis in a joyous 5/4 time ‘Bacchanale’ in the final scene.

In his notes Keith Anderson writes that Ravel saw the story “through the prism of Amyot’s sixteenth century French translation of Longus and the pastoral conventions of the eighteenth century as imagined with a certain nostalgia ... by Verlaine, Mallarmé and others.” For myself I listened to some of this music whilst looking at paintings by Claude Lorraine (1600-1682) whose evocative work is set in Roman - or is it Greek - countryside with mythological figures cavorting in the fields and hills. These are idealized images and, for their time, also quite Romantic. The lighting is magical in these pictures as is the enchanting opening of the ballet a ‘danse réligieuse’. I was reminded of Claude’s National Gallery picture ‘The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah’. And whilst listening to the justly famous ‘Lever du jour’, which opens scene three, I was reminded of the sunrise in the ‘Landscape with Parnassus’, with its flecks of rosy clouds and advancing birdsong.

The sets for the first production were designed by Leon Bakst, and one of these is illustrated on the booklet cover. Claude and indeed Watteau are not far away in this secret and yet brightly open landscape. How perfect this is for a composer of Ravel’s sensibilities. He was ever open to the natural world with a personal sense of how to express it through his remarkably beautiful, sparking, clear and masterly orchestration.

It’s extraordinary to think that the ballet received only two performances at its first production in Paris in 1912. Of course it came out just before ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ and indeed in the same season as Diaghilev’s presentation of Debussy’s ‘Prélude a l’après-midi d’un faune’, considered to be at the time indecent and erotic. But there were other factors behind this cool initial reception. Michel Fokine had been in charge of the choreography and had a complex disagreement with Diaghilev about his relationship with Nijinsky. The former then angled to give Daphnis only a few performance opportunities, much to the great sadness of Ravel who had, after all, written what was probably his masterpiece. Later, under Monteux, the work proved to be a great success.

Well, Laurent Petitgirard is no Monteux but what has he to say about this work? I recently encountered him as a composer in a particularly impressive ‘Poème’ for string orchestra. Some of his music is available on Naxos. Here he brings a composer’s ear to this large-scale ballet. He paces himself in the knowledge that he is recording the entire thing, producing a symphonic flow which captivates from start to finish instead of an episodic sense of scenes and storylines.

Having said that, the down-side is that some sections lack what I can best describe as ‘atmosphere’. This is especially so in the famous ‘Lever du jour’ and in the second scene ‘Les jeunes filles attirent Daphnis’. I probably can’t blame this very fine orchestra and I can’t blame the generally really pleasing recording. In the end it has to come down to the conductor’s approach.

The recording is rather a nuisance in one respect. Although the balance between the excellent Bordeaux opera chorus and the orchestra is just right, in the quiet passages, as for instance at the very start, one must put the volume up. In the louder passages the volume has to be turned down and seem a little crowded and overloaded. I tried out these sections on three different stereo systems and felt the same each time. Still it’s only a small point. I wouldn’t want to put you off buying this disc although I am reliably informed that the Charles Munch classic recording on RCA (82876613882) is still in the catalogue and is by most accounts highly recommendable.

The CD booklet is highly detailed giving the story behind the work’s creation and most helpfully runs through the scenic action track by track.

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