Poulenc: Gloria; Ravel: Daphnis Et Chloe [sacd] / Haitink, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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RAVEL Daphnis and Chloé. POULENC Gloria • Bernard Haitink, cond; Jessica Rivera (sop); Chicago SO & Ch (Duain Wolfe, dir) • CSO RESOUND 901 908...

RAVEL Daphnis and Chloé. POULENC Gloria Bernard Haitink, cond; Jessica Rivera (sop); Chicago SO & Ch (Duain Wolfe, dir) CSO RESOUND 901 908 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 77:18) Live: Chicago 11/8–10/2007. Available at www.cso.org

If the name Bernard Haitink doesn’t automatically spring to mind when one considers orchestral performances of Ravel, that is hardly surprising, given the prominence in the discography of Munch, Martinon, Monteux, Abbado, Boulez, and Karajan, just to name a few. Haitink, however, has recorded two collections of Ravel’s orchestral music: with the Concertgebouw in the 1970s (a selection on PentaTone was reviewed by James Reel in 30:6), and with the BSO in the 1990s (reviewed by me in 22:3). This new disc isn’t such an anomaly, then, though the inclusion of the relatively rare Poulenc work makes it more intriguing.

It is the Gloria that is programmed first, and Haitink and his Chicago forces turn in a brightly idiomatic performance: commanding, austere, light-hearted, and celebratory by turns, as the music requires. Soprano Jessica Rivera has the range and sensitivity required for her solos—she was the impressively sensuous Kumudha in Adams’s A Flowering Tree and Kitty in his Doctor Atomic —and she is well matched by the splendid Chicago Chorus. I had not heard this piece for some time, and I was struck again by its beauty, and by how obviously it was one of the sources for Bernstein’s Mass . There is one other SACD available, conducted by Mariss Jansons on RCO Live, reviewed (none too favorably) by Jerry Dubins in 30:5.

Being designated a “middle-of-the-road” or “centrist” conductor often seems like damning with faint praise, but in the case of Ravel it is most appropriate. Haitink balances the precision and acute ear of his Chicago colleague Pierre Boulez with the kind of sonic opulence of Karajan in this music (something the CSO has in spades anyway). In Daphnis , that kind of equipoise is especially effective, giving the drama a much more effective edge; there are sections of this piece that approach Rite -like rhythmic force, the “Dance of the Warriors” particularly, and here Haitink’s precision is most salutary. Yet, in such episodes as the “Sunrise” of the third part, Haitink takes full advantage of the rich orchestral palette that Ravel made such a distinctive facet of his compositions. As is their wont, the engineering team headed by James Mallinson has provided the musicians with a brilliant and full-bodied sound production in SACD and stereo (CSOR 901 906).

In SACD, Munch’s classic account from Boston (RCA) is the only real competition for the Ravel ballet, and it’s a matter of taste as well as budgetary considerations that will decide the issue for most listeners. My advice is to acquire both, and for those already in possession of the Munch disc, the addition of the Poulenc should provide the sweetener. In either case, you won’t be disappointed.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 01, 2009

  • UPC: 810449019088

  • Catalog Number: CSOR 901 908

  • Label: CSO Resound

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel

  • Conductor: Bernard Haitink

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Jessica Rivera