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SACD Review

Maurice Ravel

Daphnis & Chloé

New England Conservatory Chorus and Alumni Chorus/Robert Shaw
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
RCA Living Stereo 82876-61388-2 Hybrid SACD
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This is the same recording issued in 1993 as part of the "Living Stereo" series from RCA. I recall when I listened to it then that the strings seemed a bit shrill and the sound in general was thin. The 2003/04 Penguin Guide to Compact Discs gave the release a rossette commenting, "Charles Munch's Boston account is one of the great glories of the 1950s". The playing in all departments of the Boston orchestra is simply electrifying. The sound here may not be as sumptuous… but the richness of the colour lies in the playing, and there is a heady sense of intoxication that at times sweeps you off your feet, and the integration of the chorus is impressively managed." (No need to reinvent the wheel, this says almost all there is to say about the performance.)

Now the sumptuousness is in the recording. There is a richness and bass that was missing before. There is air around the music, orchestral depth and orchestral spread. I listened to this recording several times over just two days, enjoying every minute of it. Solos are now clear and enticing. As for the choral 'integration'; would you expect anything else from Robert Shaw? Along with Monteux this stands as not only one of the great glories of the 1950s but of all time.

If you already have the earlier release you will be amazed at how much better it now sounds. SACD compatible discs are a fantastic improvement in the sound on CDs. This disc is a must for any serious listener of classical music.

Post Script: I knew that Ravel suffered a stroke in 1933 but I was not aware of the horrible effects it had on his life. As pointed out in Steven Johnson's book, Mind Wide Open (2004) "Ravel could still appreciate music as vividly as before, and indeed his mind was filled with new musical ideas. But he had lost the ability to translate those ideas into a language that the external world could understand; either by writing or performing. In a sense, Ravel's stroke had left him with the reverse of Beethoven's legendary deafness: he could take in music from the external world, but he couldn't give it back. 'I've still got so much to say, so many ideas in my head' he would lament to aquaintances." This is one of the most tragic things I have ever heard. It would be a hell-on-earth for the composer.

Copyright © 2004, Robert Stumpf II