Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe guide and best recordings

Eexperience the deeply sensual soundscape of Maurice Ravel Daphnis and Chloe reminds us of the crucial impact Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes had in Paris at the turn of the last century.

The 20 seasons presented by Diaghilev from 1909 to 1929 featured an astonishing array of creative talent, including dancers Anna Pavlova, Ida Rubinstein and Alicia Markova, dancer-choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky, Michel Fokine and Léonide Massine, and set designers/costumers Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí. and Coco Chanel.

For many, Daphnis and Chloe is Ravel’s supreme masterpiece – a glorious reversal of standard dramatic procedures. When there isn’t much to move the plot forward, Ravel tends to stay languidly in the moment, but when things do kick in, as in the kidnapping of Chloe by pirates, he refuses. to bite the musical bait. Perhaps it is, after all, Daphnis and Chloethe most revolutionary revelation

When did Ravel compose Daphnis and Chloe ?

Ravel was part of Diaghilev’s plans from the start. A little after the first season of the Ballets Russes was launched, Ravel was in “discussions” with Fokine concerning Daphnis, based on an ancient Greek pastoral by the French writer Jacques Amyot (1513-93). The problem was that Fokine didn’t speak a word of French and that Ravel, by his own admission, could only “swear in Russian”. However, at the end of a “crazy week”, during which Ravel worked all night on several occasions, a basic scenario had been drawn up.

Diaghilev originally planned Daphnis and Chloe to form the centerpiece of the 1910 season, and although the first piano draft was ready in early May, it was already far too late, leaving the door wide open for Igor Stravinsky to achieve his first major success with Fire Bird. This seems to have inspired Ravel to get moving and by the end of the summer he was hard at work on the orchestration. However, a year later, shortly after Stravinsky launched a second musical challenge with PetrushkaRavel was still struggling with the last part of Daphnis and Chloe, which then turned into a dazzling sequence of metrical ingenuity. The orchestration was completed on April 5, 1912, just two months before the scheduled premiere on June 8.

But Ravel’s problems were not over. Fokine, as a choreographer, wanted to base his ideas on ancient Greek drawings, whereas Ravel tended towards a romanticized Gallic ideal – and Léon Bakst’s sets and costumes corresponded more to Fokine’s historical vision than to the voluptuousness of the Ravel’s music. Fokine was becoming increasingly difficult to work with following several clashes with Diaghilev, who did not endear himself to Ravel when, having heard the piano version in rehearsal, he almost canceled everything – the four scheduled performances were reduced to two.

What is the story behind by Ravel Daphnis and Chloe ?

by Ravel Daphnis and Chloe was inspired by one of the most popular novels in ancient Greek literature. Written in the second or third century CE, Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe broke new – and, for some, morally questionable – ground in depicting the development of feelings of love and sexual attraction between young people, and is the author’s only known work. Longus may have been a Roman who lived in Lesbos, where his story takes place, and who chose to write in Greek rather than Latin, but that’s speculation rather than established fact – we hardly know nothing from him.

His youthful lovers, however, certainly marked the literary and artistic world. Directly or indirectly, Daphnis and Chloé have influenced literary works such as Shakespeare, Goethe and George Sand, while the multitude of artists inspired to portray their charms range from Bordone in the 16th century to Chagall in the 20th.

Ravel, meanwhile, is not the only composer to have fallen under their pastoral spell. In 1747, for example, a star cast presented the premiere of Boismortier Daphnis and Chloe at the Royal Academy of Music in Paris. The philosopher-composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau also began an opera of the same title, leaving it unfinished when he died in 1778, alas. And in 1860, Offenbach conducted his new operetta Daphnis and Chloe in Paris; although in this case the plot departs somewhat from Longus’ original.

Ravel’s score for Daphnis and Chloe

At least the musicians of the orchestra have lived up to Ravel’s not inconsiderable demands. Although written for vast forces – including a wind machine and an off-stage choir – the work’s ingenious score came to thrilling life under the inspired direction of Pierre Monteux. Yet despite a star-studded cast that included Nijinsky (many considered the suggestive moves too overtly erotic) and Tamara Karsavina, several dancers struggled (particularly in the notorious final dance) to stay in time – aching feet limbs corps de ballet apparently resorted to chanting ‘Ser-gei Dia-ghi-lev’ to help keep them in 5/4 time.

3 of the best recordings of by Ravel Daphnis and Chloe

Netherlands Radio Choir; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/ Yannick Nézet-Séguin

BIS-1850 (hybrid CD/SACD)

This magnificent disc proves once again that with the orchestral music of Ravel, one goes almost to the end just by following the instructions on the package. In these depictions of Daphnis and Chloe Yannick Nézet-Séguin respects the composer’s indications with unusual scruple, and especially the little crescendo leaps which might seem, on paper, to risk breaking the continuity of the phrases, but which, in practice, add life and energy to them.

The playing throughout is of the highest class, from the seemingly relaxed upper fas of the first horn (Martin van de Merwe may turn purple in the face, but there are no audible signs) to the vibrato-free flutes. for which Ravel himself wrote, the piano of the clarinets playing in the furiously rapid ‘General Dance’, and the impeccable tuning of the choir in their a cappella section. the Pavane is tender, elegant and unconstrained. A correction to the notes of the libretto: the first performance of this orchestral version was given by Henry Wood in Manchester on February 27, 1911.

We gave this recording the full five stars when we saw him again

New England Conservatory Choir and Alumni Choir, Boston

09026 61846 2 ADD (1955)

One of the first stereo recordings, Daphnis by Munch in 1955 still sounds great; some constriction, by CD standards, is only a small inconvenience. The performance itself is wonderfully alive in both color and structure to Ravel’s greatest score. The work sends hi-fi buffs into overdrive; Dutoit’s 1980s Decca version quickly became a CD demo record. But Munch remains a must, even without the filler Roussel who more generously accompanied this Daphnis during its previous CD release. (review by Keith Potter)

We gave this recording the full five stars when we saw him again

SO & Montreal Choir/Charles Dutoit

458 605-2 Reissue (1981-4)

Dutoit is the original and best digital Daphnis. This electrifying performance provided an amazing experience, musically and sonically, when first released on LP in the early 80s. With the introduction of the CD, it quickly became the quintessential demo record, giving many our first glimpses of the potential of this new medium in 1983.

Since then, I’ve listened to Dutoit’s thrilling tale, one of the most seductive and hedonistic records ever made, countless times. After hearing Decca’s 24-bit reissue, my belief that this is one of the best sounding recordings of all time is only strengthened – an unrivaled, beautifully played and crafted rendition. Only Telarc’s recording of Yoel Levi’s Atlanta Symphony comes close to the realism and brilliance of Decca’s engineering, but Levi’s performance is never in contention next to Dutoit’s. The expected Ravel coatings are also reference materials. No one with ears and a CD player should be without this disc! (review by Michael Jameson)

We gave this recording the full five stars when we saw him again

Top image: Set design for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by M. Ravel (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris), 1912. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

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