Dutoit’s Ravishing “Daphnis” Reappears

United StatesUnited States  Glinka, Chopin, Ravel: Maria João Pires (piano), The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, David Hayes (Music Director) Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit (Chief Conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York City. 18.5.2012 (BH)

Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila (1837-1842)
: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 (1829)
: Daphnis et Chloé (complete ballet) (1909-1912)

Many listeners think Charles Dutoit’s recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal) is one of the finest of all modern versions, and this transparent reading with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall showed why. Dutoit must breathe this piece like oxygen, inhaling its rarefied atoms and exhaling in Technicolor. He knows—or seems to—that Daphnis was designed to be danced, and here, that sense of whirling momentum was everywhere. And flute principal Richard Khaner has to be mentioned right off the bat; his fluid work—along with that of principal clarinet Ricardo Morales and concertmaster David Kim—was crucial in painting many of the evening’s high points.

Among his many felicities, Dutoit brought out the score’s rhythmic verve, which in some places seems to anticipate Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps and which followed closely on the heels of Daphnis. Little surges of rubato—not overdone—evoked Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnol. The percussion section also deserves special mention, for use of not one but two wind machines, each differently pitched, creating an even more realistic effect of air slicing through a landscape. And in the finale, the crisp accents from snare drum, castanets and tambourine gave an edge to the luxuriant blend. The enormous vocal contingent—the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, expertly coached by David Hayes—added to the excitement. I don’t recall ever hearing this piece with such a huge number of singers (it looked to be around 100 voices), and the wall of sound they produced was a pleasure on its own.

The first half began with a fizzy, unblinking account of Glinka’s popular Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. Here, the orchestra’s strings raced through their unison passages as if on horseback—a fine start to the evening—with Dutoit relaxed, sashaying back and forth on the podium.

Pianist Maria João Pires had tough shoes to fill, substituting for Maurizio Pollini (who was ill), yet I can’t imagine anyone in the hall being disappointed with her no-nonsense, lyrical Chopin Second Piano Concerto. The patrician glow of the orchestra made an impressive backdrop for her talents, especially her clarity, and some impressive poetry in the poignant Larghetto. The final movement began with charming col legno in the strings, and Dutoit finding just the right tempo, not too fast. Pires may be petite, but once she begins to play she packs a real wallop. As she and Dutoit smiled and bowed for a cheering crowd, he turned and blew her a kiss.

Bruce Hodges