Maurice Ravel was commissioned to write a score based on the ancient Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe in 1909 by the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev. He decided to compose 'a huge musical fresco, concerned less with archaism than with faithfulness to the Greece of my dreams'. Daphnis et Chloé, which Stravinsky later described as 'not only Ravel’s best work, but one of the most beautiful products of all French music', is here performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a team with the best possible credentials for realizing the full spectrum of this sumptuous music – from the idyllic evocation of dawn in Lever du jour to the orgiastic Danse générale which closes the work. If Daphnis et Chloé is one of Ravel’s most highly regarded works, his Pavane pour une infante défunte is one of the most popular. The brief piano piece from 1899 was orchestrated by the composer in 1910, while he was working on Daphnis. Its profound melancholy has caught the imagination of listeners ever since.
The violin and piano sonatas of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel draw on foreign idioms: gypsy music in Debussy's case and African-American blues in Ravel's. But they remain completely French works, spiced with something exotic, and British violinist Jennifer Pike forges interpretations that keep this in mind. Start with the "Blues" slow movement of the Ravel Violin Sonata in G major: Pike and her accompanist, Martin Roscoe, avoid exaggerating the bluesy qualities of the music and instead emphasize the odd, almost tense disconnection between violin and piano that, combined with the languid blues melodies, gives this piece its special piquancy.
Martha Argerich’s Ravel G major was for so long a reference recording that it’s easy to forget how idiosyncratic it actually is. I wouldn’t actually blame anyone who found it too garish in its colouring, with its volatility giving diminishing returns and its rubato too predictably appassionato for a sensibility as dapper as Ravel’s. Such a person might well find exactly what they want in Steven Osborne’s account, which is masterful in its own way but essentially self-effacing.
If anybody is, then Zoltán Kocsis is truly a musical artist in the Renaissance sense: he explores ever greater areas of his profession, and takes possession of new realms. Initially, we looked on with incomprehension, asking why as a pianist of genius, he did not devote himself exclusively to his instrument. Why was he dissipating his creative energies is so many fields: teaching, conducting, writing essays, creating concert programs, forming societies and building an orchestra – and of course, there was his composition as well. But these days, we really have to acknowledge that with Kocsis, this is not some sporting achievement, but utilising the Wagnerian term – a kind of “Gesamtkunstwerk” activity.