RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloe (complete ballet); Fairy Overture: Sheherazade – Radio Choir of the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk/ Orchestre National de Lyon/ Jun Markl – Naxos 8.570992 ****:
It’s Ravel’s mastery of the orchestra and the richness of his instrumental palette that endears him to audiophiles. His ballet Daphnis and Chloe, written for Diaghilev in 1912, is the best example of this genius. Ravel called it a ‘choreographic symphony.’ Based on the Greek legend, it’s his lengthiest work, unrivalled for its sensuality and electrifying climaxes. A recording of Daphnis and Chloe requires clarity of textures and orchestral detail, a ravishing sense of orchestral color (it depicts pagan rituals), and an idiomatic tempo that maintains musical momentum despite the ebb and flow of the story.
Producer and engineer Tim Handley has achieved a masterful balance between clarity and atmosphere that communicates Ravel’s sensuous diaphanous elegance, powerful climaxes, and lucidity of detail. Unlike many older recording of this masterpiece, the choir is a present force, not overwhelmed by the powerful orchestral climaxes. Bass response is easily heard without standing out. Listen how present the double bass and cello pizzacatos are, below Daphnis’ flute love song to Chloe (band 14). The only flaw in the recording is a bit of glare and congestion in the climaxes.
Markl and his orchestra shape a performance that never loses its forward momentum and is played with passion and impeccable execution. Dorcon’s grotesque dance is sharp and energetic. Daphnis’ reply to Dorcon is stylish and effervescent. The glorious finale pulsates with drama, yet the precision and detail that Ravel demands is discernable. If you only have one of the old ‘classic’ performances of this work – Munch, Monteux or Cluytens – add this one in excellent digital sound to your collection.
The filler, Ravel’s 1899 fairy overture, Sheherazade, is an appropriate companion. It’s inventive, well played and recorded, merging romantic flamboyance with the nascent impressionistic verve of a young Ravel. This is a valuable and welcome addition to the Daphnis and Chloe discography.
— Robert Moon