Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé - Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5327
Classical - Orchestral
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé
Sinfonia of London Chorus
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - November 2, 2023
John Wilson's latest release, a new recording of Ravel’s Symphonie chorégraphique ‘Daphnis et Chloé’, arguably his greatest score, is a triumph for all concerned. This is the fourth of Wilson’s albums with the Sinfonia of London for Chandos to have been devoted to the music of Gallic composers, and not only solidifies this conductor’s deep affinity with French music but also typifies Wilson's meticulous attention to detail and his commitment to interpreting the composer's vision for this score.
The recording uses John Wilson’s new performing edition of the work and it is worth quoting in full what he has written about it in the liner notes: ‘The standard performing materials for Daphnis et Chloé have long been the subject of much discussion among orchestral players, conductors, and musicologists. Aside from a mass of errors in the 1913 published full score, the orchestral parts contain many hundreds of inconsistencies, omissions, and wrong notes. It became apparent that numerous changes made by Ravel in rehearsals were transferred directly into the parts but not carried over into the full score. I have tried to rationalise such (and other) inconsistencies as best I could to arrive at what is, I hope, a useful practical performing edition in which the parts match the full score in every detail and – crucially, for a work of such complexity – everything is carefully laid out and easy to read.’
His new performing edition is a testament to his passion for accuracy. The meticulous effort to rectify inconsistencies and present a clear, practical performing edition is most commendable, though I suspect that most listeners will be unaware of the many corrections he has made.
The performance by Wilson's hand-picked Sinfonia of London is truly outstanding. Wilson’s virtuoso musicians navigate the numerous dynamic and tempo changes with painstaking care, and display a level of precision that is astonishing. Even in the most densely layered passages, the various elements remain impeccably clear, a testament to the orchestra's technical prowess and that of the Chandos recording team. Their distinct characterizations for each section of the piece demonstrate the conductor’s firm grip on structure and his sharp sense of rhythmic drive. The result is a rendition that is both technically impressive and deeply evocative.
Amongst the fine solo contributions from these musicians special mention must be made of Adam Walker's exquisite flute playing, which permeates the entire work. Equally praiseworthy is the contribution from the 47 members of the Sinfonia of London Chorus whose flawless intonation in the a cappella section linking Parts 1 and 2 of the piece and their full-throated singing in the bacchanalian ‘Danse générale’ create considerable frisson.
While the alternative versions available in high resolution from conductors such as Bernard Haitink, Valery Gergiev, Stefan Blunier, and Yannick Nezet-Seguin et al. are worthy of consideration, the symbiosis between the fine acoustic of the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, the skill of the Chandos recording team (Producer Brian Pidgeon and sound engineer Ralph Couzens), and Wilson's dedicated orchestra ensure that this SACD, both musically and sonically, is a joy from start to finish.
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