While Daphnis et Chloe is frequently heard in the concert hall in the form of two orchestral suites, most especially Suite N° 2, this recording by the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg reminds us that Ravel’s complete score – his most extended work – consists of much more than these extracted portions. Although the score’s masterly qualities were hailed by the French critic Emile Vuillermoz as early as 1912, this ambitious project made substantial demands on Ravel, and realizing the music was far from easy.
The painstaking process of composition often involved Ravel in a private struggle, as distinct from the subsequent orchestration for which he had such a natural and imaginative flair. In fact, the composer rejected his first, somewhat conservative finale of 1910 written in 3/4 meter, in favor of a much more unpredictable and exciting 5/4 conclusion completed some two years later.
Beyond its music, this is a ballet score conceived as part of a large-scale, multidimensional artwork for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets russes. Despite some serious collaborative tensions, the work was first staged at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on 8 June 1912. Ravel’s music, conducted by Pierre Monteux, was accompanied by intense, deeply colored Russian-inspired designs and costumes of Leon Bakst; innovative choreography by the ballet reformer Michel Fokine; and an extended scenario, originally authored by Fokine, but including at least some narrative input from Ravel. Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the title roles.