Bernard Haitink

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé Suites: Ma mere l'oye; Bolero

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Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé Suites: Ma mere l'oye; Bolero Review

by James Leonard

In retrospect, Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink's years as music director of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra seems like the orchestra's last golden era, the last time the orchestra sounded just like itself: plush-toned but strong, warmly colorful but supple, supremely virtuosic but totally self-effacing. Under Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly, the orchestra's virtuosity became more obvious while its tone turned edgier and its colors turned harder, and under Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, the orchestra's virtuosity became blinding while its colors began blazing and its tone started burning. In comparison, Haitink's Concertgebouw was always wonderfully itself no matter what the repertoire. In these staggeringly beautiful 1971 recordings of Ravel's two Daphnis et Chloé suites plus his complete Ma mère l'oye ballet, Haitink and the Concertgebouw turn in performances of unsurpassed clarity and luminosity. Every line is lyrical, every color is radiant, every rhythm is elemental, and every single note is a thing of beauty. Throughout, Haitink never sounds like he's interpreting the music -- he sounds like he's letting the music flow through him. And throughout, the Concertgebouw never sounds like a Dutch orchestra, much less like a French orchestra -- it sounds like a supremely virtuosic symphonic orchestra that plays with the unity and diversity of a chamber orchestra. The addition of Edo de Waart and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra's 1974 recording of Ravel's Boléro is instructive because, fine as it is -- and de Waart is as superb a conductor as the Rotterdam is an orchestra and their Boléro is as persuasive as most -- it can't touch Haitink and the Concertgebouw's Ravel recordings. Impossible but true, PentaTone's super audio remastering of Philips' stereo originals is even more perfect than the LPs -- cleaner, clearer, more transparent, and more present.

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