Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ravel's 'L'Heure espagnole' and 'L'Enfant et les sortileges': recent recordings

Decca 478 6760 (2015)
Ravel: L'Enfant et les sortileges
Shéhérazade; Alborada del gracioso
Isabel Leonard (L'enfant (soprano))
Susan Graham (Shéhérazade (soprano))
Seiji Ozawa/Saito Kinen Orchestra et al.

Naxos 8.660366 (2015)
Ravel: L'Enfant et les sortileges;
Ma Mère l'Oye (complete ballet)
Hélène Hébrard (L'enfant (soprano))
Leonard Slatkin/Orchestre National de Lyon

Naxos 8.660337 (2016)
Ravel: L'Heure espagnole;
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Isabelle Druet (Concepcion (mezzo-soprano))
Luca Lombardo (Torquemada the clockmaker (tenor))
Frédéric Antoun (Gonzalve (tenor))
Marc Barrard (Ramiro (baritone))
Nicolas Courjal (Don Inigo Gomez (bass))
Francois Le Roux (baritone (Don Quichotte))
Leonard Slatkin/Orchestre National de Lyon

Few recordings have captured the lyric whimsy--the sheer magic--of Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortileges
quite so brilliantly as Seiji Ozawa's 2015 release from Decca. The 1925 score, to a libretto by Collette, is here exquisitely detailed, revealing an extraordinary, vibrant range of color and emotion. Leonard Slatkin's 2015 reading for Naxos, while not attaining the same ecstatic heights, is still very fine, and well worth the label's bargain asking price. I was less impressed with Hélène Hébrard's Enfant--perhaps a tad too mature-sounding by comparison with Isobel Leonard's wonderfully characterized performance for Ozawa. The accompanying ensembles are well-matched--at least on paper--but Slatkin's Lyon players feel less involved, and Naxos' recorded sound--superb as it is--does not capture the same level of fine detail within the score.

Slatkin also recorded Ravel's earlier one-act opera buffa L'Heure espagnole (1911) for Naxos in 2016, and this, too, is more than merely serviceable, featuring an excellent cast, consistently well-accompanied, though I think, ultimately, it lacks the 'authority' of the classic recordings by Lorin Maazel (DG (The Originals) 449 649 (1997 re-issue from 1965)) or Ernest Ansermet for Decca. (And one is more than a little perplexed by Francois Le Roux's awful, misbegotten interpretations of the three Don Quichotte songs as filler on the disc. What could the folks at Naxos possibly have been thinking?)

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