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04/29/2003 3:00p ET
John Nelson - Reviewer

Our litmus test for gauging the excellence of a performance is whether one gets an emotional response to extremely well-known music that borders on cliché. If one isn’t careful, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or Ravel’s Boléro tend to lose their brilliance for having been heard to death.

EMI Classics’ release of Jean Martinon and the Orchestre de Paris’ performances of Ravel’s Boléro, complete Daphnis et Chloé, and La Valse, happily, are anything but stale. Available on DVD-A, the disc brings back the original quadrophonic sound of the original recording. Martinon was wise to allow the sensual nature of Boléro to speak and insinuate for itself, never pushing or pulling the orchestra. Part of the charm of Boléro is following Ravel’s insistence that the tempo never change from beginning to end; it doesn’t need to change to evoke sensual imagery because the music itself embodies carnality. Part of the revelation upon listening to this recording is the distinct feeling that yes, THIS is the way Boléro is supposed to be played. The performance has an obviousness about it; that is, Martinon conducts in such a way as to make each succeeding variation of the theme sound logically in its proper place in soundspace and time with regard to every other thematic variation. The fact that a fifteen-minute piece that contains subtly shaded variations never gets boring proves, to this reviewer, the contention that Ravel was a genius of orchestration. This is truly one of the best recordings available of Boléro, topped perhaps, by Charles Munch in a long-ago recording; however, the sound experience is outstanding on Martinon’s version, given the DVD-A treatment.

Daphnis et Chloé, written for ballet, comes across as playful, light, and, by turns, menacing. Ravel scored three scenes from the Greek story (their love, Chloé’s abduction, and her return to Daphnis). The lush, ravishing orchestration is respected by Martinon, whereby the orchestra plays with carefully measured emotion; no grotesque over-the-top playing that deflates the beauty of the music. The fact that the frequency range is expanded on this DVD-A just makes the already exemplary sound and performance even more breathtaking. In the 4.0 multi-channel version, in the second section of Part Two of Daphnis (at 1:28) the basses groan making the listener feel their undulations as much as hear them.

La Valse, too, is well played, and comes across as a drunken, carefree if nihilistic, disturbing reverie as if the image of waltzers evoked by the music are histrionic, hedonistic, and scoffing at inevitable death or loss.

One annoying thing that occurs on this disc and, in fact, all DVD-As I’ve auditioned is the seconds of silence that occur between music tracks or movements that run together without pause. This is likely due to the loading of each menu of every track of music. This isn’t noticeable on DVD-As containing music with discrete tracks where no track seguéing occurs, but in classical music, movements are frequently strung together without pause. On the other hand, this problem does not occur with SACDs. We’re dealing with a technology issue, folks, and this is the only thing that keeps the disc from earning five stars for DVD-A quality.

The disc sports four versions of these masterworks: Side A contains a DVD-Video–compatible Dolby Digital AC3-encoded Surround Sound version and a 24-bit linear PCM stereo version, and Side B has a DVD-Audio–compatible MLP-encoded 24-bit surround sound (4.0 channel) version and a stereo version. The exceptional DVD-A 4.0 version, which I preferred, fills the soundscape with orchestral colors that flourish in three dimensions. However, the greater aural resolution of the DVD-A stereo mix is apparent: the pizzicatos of the violins can be heard most clearly, and the violin bowing, for that matter, is also more discernible.

Delayed gratification is a good thing. Whether it is the wise conductor who knows not to force beauty or the patient music lover waiting years for exceptional acoustics to be bestowed on a deserving set of masterful performances, the release is sweeter in the end.

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212 Frech

Jean Martinon
and the Orchestre de Paris
Daphnis et Chloé
La Valse

DVD-Audio Quality

Released: November 6, 2001
Origination Year: 1975
Time: 1:23:46
Tracks: 15
Produced by: Rene Challen
Engineered by: Paul Vavasseur
Remastered by: Andrew Walter at Abbey Road Studios
Style: Studio
Format: DVD-Audio
Enhancement: MLP
Label: EMI Classics

Jean Martinon:

Jean Martinon:

Orchestre de Paris:

Track List

  1. Bolero
    Daphnis et Chloé, complete
    2-9 - Part One
    10-11 - Part Two
    12-14 - Part Three

    15 - La Valse -
    Poème choregraphique