There are two classic recordings of the full 'Daphnis et Chloé' ballet (as opposed to either of the two suites taken from the score) -- those conducted by Pierre Monteux and by Charles Munch. Monteux, of course, conducted the premiere in 1912, and recorded it with the London Symphony and the Royal Opera House chorus some forty-odd years on and although that recording is now fifty-some years old, it is in vivid sound. Munch recorded it with the Boston Symphony and it, too, is getting long in the tooth and is in somewhat less modern sound. But both of those versions are superb musically. Against that competition I wondered what a barely known conductor/composer, Laurent Petitgirard, and a provincial French orchestra, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, could come up with. Was I surprised and pleased! This recording deserves to be placed in the same company as the classic two, and is miles ahead of another recent recording of the complete ballet with Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio-France. The Monteux and Munch are still availabl, if I'm not mistaken, at the midprice level.
Of course, there is a vitally important choral component to the ballet score -- the chorus sings both onstage and offstage; one can only imagine what kind of comings and goings this causes in a concert performance. In this recording the singers are the excellent Bordeaux Opera Chorus.
There are many original touches in this sumptuous score, Ravel's longest, one that calls for a huge orchestra. The opening scene begins with muted string chords, offstage chorus and an ethereal flute line followed by an answer from the principal horn. The stage fills and the music builds to a shattering climax before setting into a religious dance with harp, strings and woodwinds. This scene is as musically original as anything Ravel had written up to that time and there are points of similarity here and later with Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' which premiered with the same forces a year later. One can't help but think of Strauss's 'Dance of the Veils' from 'Salome' in the third scene in which temptress Lyceion lures shepherd Daphnis by dropping one veil after another, but the music is pure Ravel peppered with some Stravinskian rhythms as we now think of them -- but, remember, this is before 'Rite of Spring'.
The pirate scene is another which foreshadows 'Rite'. One has to wonder, frankly, whether Stravinsky knew the score -- surely he did since he was living in Paris and already associated with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Even if he did, though, this is not to gainsay Stravinsky's later achievement but rather to underline Ravel's originality. One does not tend to think of Ravel as capable of brutal orchestral effects, but here, in a section marked 'animé et rude', he presents primitive and exciting rhythms, softened (as Stravinsky's are not) by a certain sophisticated allure. The muttering, almost grunting male interjections in this scene always remind me of a similar effect late in Britten's 'Peter Grimes', thirty years later.
This is a gloriously original and effective score and it is given a gloriously effective reading here by Petitgirard and his forces. I would without hesitation place this on the same level as the aforementioned Munch and Monteux. Add to that the budget price and modern sound and this is an easy recommendation.