Robin Ticciati & DSO - Ravel & Duparc: Aimer et mourir - American Record Guide

British conductor Robin Ticciati, 35, became music director of the German Symphony Berlin in 2017. This, their second recording together, is fabulous in every way.

One sees Daphnis & Chloe Suite 2 and a lighter Ravel piece mixed with Duparc and wonders, “What’s going on here? D&C yet again?” Believe me, the programming is brilliant. Daphis is followed by four songs by Henri Duparc (1848–1933), a contemporary of Ravel born 27 years earlier, that pick up immediately on the same rippling arpeggios, gliding “water music”, and slight retards (retenez un peu) that fill Ravel’s score. And they move with the same limpid, liquid grace that Ticciati brings to D&C. They’re followed by Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, which maintains the same flexibility and flow, yet lightens the mood. The album concludes with one of the few purely orchestral works by Duparc, Aux Etoiles, about which the composer wrote in the score, “Who can discern the secret essence of this light, so humble, yet coming from such immensity?” (I must admit I’ve been deeply struck recently by the same notion on my nighttime walks.) Here is an album one can simply put on to enjoy a highly refined mood with mixed orchestral and vocal textures. It’s like being invited out of oneself into a different universe for an hour.

And that’s just from a programming point of view. Add the performances, and one will be transported indeed! First, Ticciati is relaxed, never rushing, relishing string portamentos and pacing the music with a liquid forward flow (that’s the nature of ballet), but with rich excitement when called for. The engineering and balances are exquisite. In the introduction to Daphnis one can easily hear the celeste or the high strings alternating with the lower strings against rippling paired flute arpeggios, details often buried. Or one can attend to liquid solo flute and clarinet lines with slight retards that interlink phrases so seamlessly. Or listen to the brass chords in the first climax—how perfectly integrated they are into the overall texture. Expressif et souple Ravel asks at the start of the long flute solo that eventually extends from a piccolo to a purring alto flute—the most subtle, eloquently phrased, and gorgeously played that I know of since the days of Donald Peck, Jean Martinon, and the Chicago Symphony on RCA. If anyone thinks that the Berlin Philharmonic has sucked up all the finest principal players in Berlin, here’s testimony to the fact that there are more—in the German Symphony.

Four Duparc songs from the last quarter of the 19th Century follow: ‘Invitation to the Voyage’ (a perfect reflection of Daphnis’s orchestration), ‘To the Country Where War Is Waged’ (a woman who’s longing for her soldier-lover who “with our goodbye kiss took my soul from my mouth”), ‘Sad Song’ about another women longing for her lover to return (with more harp arpeggios as in Daphis), and ‘Phidyle’ with its quietly surging passion—”torment replaced by ecstasy”, as the superb liner notes say. Mezzo Magdalena Kozena (Simon Rattle’s wife), who works hand in hand with Ticciati, is especially tender in the last two songs. In the first two I wish she had a little softer cover (think of a pillow) to her forte surges, whereas her quiet surges are divine.

This performance of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales is the best I’ve heard since Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony danced on the head of a pin for RCA half a century ago. The lightness, buoyancy, transparency, atmosphere, all-on-one-string flow, and perfect gait are all here—and the digital clarity surpasses all of the Reiner reissues, unless you’re lucky enough to find the incomparable JVC pressing—a lesson in the 12 steps to produce a CD, any one of which can seriously compromise the original sound.

Duparc’s ‘Aux Etoiles’ (five minutes) is perfect (even key-wise) after the Valses’ deja vu epilogue. It belies the album’s silly title, “Love and Death”. There is no death here, only love, or “Dances and Melodies” as the subtitle says.

American Record Guide
18 December 2018