Valery Gergiev, highly regarded for his passionate performances of Russian repertoire, Wagner, and Mahler, affirms his versatility with compelling interpretations of three Ravel staples. His Daphnis et Chloe— the entire ballet, complete with chorus—is voluble and vividly colored. While the conductor never overlooks the smallest wonder of Ravel’s nonpareil orchestration, Gergiev’s reading is boldly assertive, and— this is a ballet!—danceable. The sense of headlong rush with the final “Bacchanale” is exceptional, almost seeming to stumble ahead, thanks to the asymmetric 5/4 meter. LSO’s generous SACD is filled out with an unsentimentalized Pavane for a Dead Princess and Boléro. The conductor views the latter work as a remarkable musical experiment for its time—proto-minimalism, composed before Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley were even born.
At these Barbican Centre concerts of late 2009, the LSO plays superbly for its principal conductor, both in the aggregate and individually. (Listen to the extended flute solo towards the end of Daphnis or the notoriously difficult first trombone’s go at that relentless Boléro theme.) The engineering places the chorus behind the orchestra and the vocal/instrumental blend is very good. The recording is quite neutral, to the benefit of Ravel’s exquisite sonorities.