Saturday, May 01, 2004

CD REVIEW: Ravel: Daphnis & Chloe Suite 2; Pavane; La Valse; Mother Goose Suite; Bolero

RAVEL: Daphnis & Chloe Suite 2; Pavane; La Valse; Mother Goose Suite; Bolero
Cincinnati Symphony/ Paavo Jarvi
Telarc 80601--63 minutes

Review By Tom Godell
American Record Guide, May/June 2004, Vol. 67, Issue 3

In his review of Jarvi's Cincinnati recording of Prokofieff's Romeo and Juliet (Nov/Dec 2003), Don Vroon commented: "Too much of this seems too laid-back...emotionally limited. There is no ardor...no wide-eyed wonder. It is prose rather than poetry." The same words apply to the first three selections here. Daphnis contains some of the most sensuous music ever written, but you'd never know it from Jarvi's carefully controlled, utterly passionless account. JoAnn Falletta with the Buffalo Philharmonic may not have Cincinnati's sumptuous strings, but she nonetheless uncovers all the mystery, drama, and urgency that Jarvi overlooks. Jarvi's Pavane is dry and deadpan. Compare Monteux on Philips; his warmth and affection for the music permeates every bar. In La Valse, Jarvi's blazing colors and the orchestra's stunning playing are remarkable, but the interpretation lacks imagination and character, especially after the malice and brutality of Paray (Mercury LP, NA).

The tide turns--dramatically--with Mother Goose. These gentle musical fairy tales inspire Jarvi to lead a heartfelt, sweetly atmospheric performance. Here at last he allows the music to breathe. Each phrase blooms magically and majestically. While he may have overlooked or downplayed the maliciousness of La Valse, in 'Petit Poucet' he unleashes some of the most menacing birds you'll ever hear. In the 'Conversations of Beauty and the Beast', however, his Beast is rather too tame and soft-spoken. Jarvi redeems himself in the end with one of the most touching and gorgeous renditions of 'The Fairy Garden' ever recorded.

All right, I'll admit it. I've never cared for Bolero, but Jarvi and his amazing orchestra have caused me to rethink that opinion. The conductor's perky tempo and rhythmic thrust are ideally suited to this music. Undoubtedly, Cincinnati has the finest winds anywhere right now. Here they engage in a friendly competition to see who can give us the most provocative or vividly colorful solo. I find it impossible to choose between the seductive flute, the haunting clarinet, the darkly mysterious English horn, and the sexy saxophones. Jarvi slowly, carefully ratchets up the volume--not to mention the heat--as the music unfolds, building inexorably to a blazing climax in the closing bars. Telarc's engineers should be