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SACD Review

Maurice Ravel

Daphnis et Chloé

Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra/James Levine
BSO Classics SACD 0001 Hybrid Multichannel
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This review is very late in coming, considering that this disc was released in 2008. But now that James Levine has returned to conducting after multiple surgeries and setbacks, it is perhaps timely to evaluate his many accomplishments. As I noted in my review of Levine's Boston Mozart discs on this label, his New England tenure was severely hampered by his body's outright refusal to let him work. But on evidence here, what he could do, he did very well. Actually, as evidenced by his return to the MET, Levine has remained a persuasive and capable musician despite his issues, making it all the more unfortunate that his Boston recordings are so few. It reminds me quite a bit of William Steinberg's Boston career, in that he too was a tremendous guest artist, but was too frail to do much when he actually got the director's job.

Happily, this is music that the orchestra simply owns. This is the fifth complete recording of the ballet from this ensemble, and all are excellent. Of the conductors who have set down the work for posterity in Boston (Munch, Haitink, and Ozawa are the others), Levine is probably the least known for Ravel. But don't be fooled; this is not simply a great orchestra on autopilot. Levine pushes the opening sections forward, refusing to let them drag, and from there the rest is smooth sailing. He conjures a genuinely French sound, aided in no small part by some fabulous singing from the Tanglewood choral forces. The live setting galvanizes orchestra and conductor alike, and while the entire Boston Symphony is magnificent, the winds cannot be overlooked.

The audience is very quiet, the sonics are superb in regular stereo, and the whole project looks great. This is probably Levine's finest recorded achievement as Music Director in Boston, and as with Steinberg before him, we are very fortunate to have it at all. Now that the Symphony has a new director and a new vision, I can only hope that BSO Classics will make a return to the catalog, and perhaps someday, James Levine can return as well.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

Trumpet