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Maurice Ravel
Daphnis et Chloé, Ballet Suites Nos. 1 & 2)
Ma Mère l'Oye
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra;
St. Olaf Choir directed by Kenneth Jennings

Review By Phil Gold
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  This is a sister disc to the fine Bolero recording from Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra, recorded at the same sessions and originally released on a VOX 4-channel LP in 1975. Here we are given the first two suites from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé, written for Diaghilev and his Russian Ballet and presented for the first time on June 8, 1912 in Paris with Nijinsky and Karsavina in the title roles under the baton of Pierre Monteux.

The sound on both the SACD and CD layers is spacious and well balanced, but the original tapes were deliberately rolled off at the frequency extremes to avoid boominess. In compensation we have plenty of warmth and the acoustics of the hall are well preserved, so it is easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself transported back in time to concentrate on the performance. Ravel's orchestration is an exemplar of the impressionist style, and Skrowaczewski is in his element, never forcing the pace or exaggerating the markings. He allows the music to unfold at a gentle pace, giving room for all the magnificent detail to emerge and paint its pictures for your inspection. The orchestra performs brilliantly both in ensemble playing and in the many opportunities for solo instrumental flight. Skrowaczewski never lets the tension drop, even at the slow pace he adopts, and the sudden flights of string and wind flit around a very solid ground.

Ma Mère l'Oye is a piece from the children's kingdom of Charles Perrault, Mme d'Aulnoy and Leprince de Beaumont, first written in 1908 for piano four hands. Two years later its first public performance was by children aged seven and eight. In 1911 Ravel orchestrated and expanded the work for the ballet. This ballet version is quite magical and delightful. It apparently came very easily to Ravel, who was working on Daphnis et Chloé at the time. The performance here is loving, lilting and luminous, and you don't have to be a child to enjoy it.

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, referred to incorrectly on the cover as Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, are patterned after the Schubert Valses Nobles and written in a more open and crisp style than the other works on the program. Unlike the rest of the disc, the bass here is a touch heavy and the performance lacks the lightness of touch and rhythmic security that characterize the rest of Skrowaczewski's Ravel.

It's a shame the third suite from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé was tacked onto the Bolero disc instead of being included here with the rest of the ballet, and I continue to be surprised by how little space is left on the discs between the different works. Despite these minor reservations, this is a disc I can warmly recommend, and the extended playing time means you are getting your money's worth.

 

 

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