Maurice Ravel collected music boxes. Nothing fascinated the composer more than childlike dream worlds that took shape within a short time in the form of precision mechanics. Whether Sergei Diaghilev was aware of that when he asked Ravel in 1909 to musically arrange a bucolic epic written between the second and third centuries A.D. for performances by the Ballets russes? We don’t know – but we do know what ideas the composer let himself be guided by when working on Daphnis et Chloé: “My intention was to compose a vast musical fresco,” Ravel confessed, “less thoughtful of archaism than of fidelity to the Greece of my dreams, which identifies willingly with that imagined and depicted by late 18th-century French artists.”
Thus a game with images and sounds, captured in a score that turns into music states of intoxication all the way to total exhaustion, characterized nevertheless by a rather distanced, sometimes cool stance. More than almost any other, Ravel knew how to filter emotions through intellectual reflection and compositional precision. Not for nothing did he call himself a musical “master watchmaker”.
Just about a quarter of a century younger than Ravel, Francis Poulenc was described once by a critic as someone who is both “monk and naughty boy”. With Figure humaine, his choral cantata composed in 1943 based on texts by his fellow Frenchman Paul Éluard, the Janus-faced composer wrote a striking hymn to freedom under the impression of the German occupation of his homeland. Our concert opens with the original vocal version, and closes with an arrangement for 12 cellists (which for organisational reasons was recorded on 19 February 2016). Charles Koechlin’s symphonic poem Les Bandar-log inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book takes us to a completely different realm: a monkey dance that is both virtuoso and enigmatic poking fun at, among other things, representatives of a self-proclaimed compositional avant-garde: “These monkeys believe themselves to be creative geniuses; but they are nothing but vulgar imitators,” Koechlin wrote, “whose aim is to be fashionable and up-to-date.”