Commissioned by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, Daphnis et Chloé was first performed in Paris in 1912. Whilst not as celebrated as the ballet scores composed by Stravinsky for Diaghilev around the same period, it’s nonetheless a work of huge ambition. Ravel described the music as a ‘symphonie choréographique’, and certainly it’s a work of symphonic proportions, lasting almost an hour. Sonically it has something in common with Debussy’s Nocturnes written a decade earlier: at key points an already large orchestral palette is augmented with a wordless chorus.
Gergiev is a natural narrator of ballet scores and paces this performance brilliantly. The theme of the ballet is a Greek mythic one with the love story of Daphnis and Chloé at its heart. Quite apart from the various set pieces and the famous ‘dawn’ sequence, the closing Bacchanale is pure excitement in this version.
Despite also having its origins in ballet, Ravel’s Boléro is now regarded as a stand-alone piece for ‘solo’ orchestra - a ritual for the concert hall which, ideally, the conductor animates without seeming to. It’s fair to say that Gergiev gave fairly minimal direction to the players in concert, though perhaps not quite as zen as the direction Ravel is said to have given when conducting the piece in 1930. The LSO’s performance was also captured on a DVD which Bowers and Wilkins has made available, so those interested can actually check out Gergiev’s body language in this piece if they wish.
Finally, anyone who thinks the maestro’s musical interests are restricted to big, impactful orchestral works might care to listen to the remaining work on this disc, the Pavane pour une infante défunte. With its hushed dynamics and languid tempi it makes for an unvarnished interlude between the two grander pieces, and shows Gergiev at his most tender and unshowy.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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