Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Zubin Mehta — Maurice Ravel — Daphnis and Chloé 2nd Suite, Ma Mere l'Oye, La Valse

   Maurice Ravel was one of most famous composers of early 20th century. And he was really unusual one. What was common for many modern composers, he attempted to create original style and as many others he was clearly different from his contemporaries. But in opposition to trends dominating in modern music, the intellectual factor of his works was explicitly present in thematic and semantic associations. This was Ravel’s own way of creating the distance and classical stability. While inducing some elements of ancient cultures and intertextual references to historic styles, he became famous for his harmonic masterity of orchestration and color imagination. He seen music in various perspectives and this feature decided on differentiation of his oeuvres. He was also great composer of ballet music and his most popular symphonic pieces are connected to the dance. Even rare compositions written specially for orchestra have their dance context and the perfect example is La valse.
   Ravel was one of first composers writing for Sergei Diaghilev, and these cooperation gave him position of prominent composer in the world of contemporary art. As avantgardist he was recognized and valued, and his ballets gave him widespread acceptance. Diaghilev comissioned Daphnis and Chloé in 1909, before successes of Stravinsky’s The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). Later Diaghilev commissioned also works by Claude Debussy (1913) and Eric Satie (1917). So Ravel was the one who opened for impressionistic style this most famous avant-garde ballet company. He did this with one of best scores ever written for stage. Its formal integrity is based on four leitmotivs and emotional profundity on plentitude of harmonic meanings. The whole scenic work duration is almost an hour, so composer made two suites, one for orchestra and one for orchestra and choir to promote this great music also during symphonic concerts.

Maurice Ravel – Daphnis and Chloé (1971)

   Second suite is almost exact equivalent of third part of the ballet, and it was originally arranged by Ravel for large orchestra and wordless chorus. Shortly it became very popular as a symphonic piece and is frequently performed without the choir, which is quite understandable since choir parts are unisons with some instrumental parts. But as it was arranged by such master as Ravel, it is not good practice to curtail his work of human voice sound. The composer himself considered 2nd Suite from Daphnis and Chloé as a “choreographic symphony in three parts”. The music of 2nd Suite follows libretto from the morning at the grotto to the ending bacchanalia. The following movements’ titles are: Lever du jour, Pantomime and Danse générale. Recorded by Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta 2nd Suite “Daphnis and Chloé” became model performance with choral parts and in perfect interpretation. Published together with ballet music Ma Mère L'Oye and La Valse, it was second “Ravel album” LAPO and Mehta recorded for Decca (after Ravel’s version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition from 1967). The cover of the album features set design by Leon Bakst for the world premiere in Paris in 1912 of Daphnis and Chloé ballet.
   Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, one of best symphony orchestras in the world its prominent position owes to great conductors and music directors. After series of famous conductors Artur Rodziński, Otto Klemperer, Alfred Wallenstein and Eduard van Beinum, in 1960 post was proposed to Georg Solti who accepted proposal, but resigned when Philharmonic Directors Board appointed 26 year-old Zubin Mehta as an assistant conductor. In effect in 1962 Mehta started his tenure and last on the director’s post to 1978. Successes of Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in sixties and seventies were in big part effect of development leading by Zubin Mehta. Recordings are great opportunity to understand what artistic representation of these achievements was. The great test of orchestra quality is 2nd Suite “Daphnis and Chloe”. Orchestra sounds clearly independently of dynamics, with lots of space and precise articulation in pianissimo and fortissimo. Second side with even more narrative music and opulent La Valse show more perfect sound and large orchestra qualities. This is five stars, resplendent performance and old Decca pressing keeps it in almost natural state.

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