Véronique Gens: The complete “Shéhérazade” (Ravel)
Ravel, Maurice (1875-1937) -composer
Véronique Gen -soprano
John Axelrod -conductor
Loire National Orchestra
Playlist “The art of French song: Faure, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Satie…”: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=…
Ravel was drawn to the sensual allure of the Orient as early as 1898, when he composed the “Ouverture de Shéhérazade,” a work which quotes a Persian melody while drawing on the spiritual ancestry of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade” of 1888. He returned to its title in 1903 for this cycle of three songs for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, based on the exotic texts of the French poet Tristan Klingsor. With “Shéhérazade,” his first major statement for orchestra, Ravel demonstrates his mastery of muted and climactic orchestral details, while eliciting equal measures of ecstasy and restraint for the human voice.
Like the story in Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous suite, “Shéhérazade” conjures up Eastern tales of indulgence, perversity, death and danger. The first poem, “Asie” opens with a hushed string tremolo, followed by a meandering oboe melody, establishing a seductive atmosphere of Oriental fantasy. The opening four lines are declaimed syllabically and recitative-like (“Asia, Asia, Asia/marvelous old land of nursery tales/where fantasy sleeps like an empress/in her forest filled with mystery”). Pentatonic scale figures, grace notes and fluttering strings further impart the poem’s chilling decadence, leading to an accelerating climax on the words “I would like to see those who die for love as well as those who die for hatred.” The piece falls silent and shimmers to a close, as the recitative of the opening concludes the tale over a faintly rolling timpani.
“La Flute enchantée” and “L’indifferent,” are considerably shorter than “Asie,” and each song concludes with a brief yet subtly modified reference to the opening theme. “La Flute enchantée” is a timeless portrait of a girl listening to the sounds of a flute, while “L’indifferent” — sometimes regarded as the most beautiful of all of Ravel’s songs — concerns the attraction of the unattainable. If all three of the Tristan Klingsor settings in the cycle are expressions of longing, this final one finds a particularly personal tone, through false modality, and a final pandiatonically extended triad with a major ninth. After “Shéhérazade,” Ravel wrote no song with an erotic theme until he completed “Chansons madécasses” in 1926.
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