CD review: Leonard Slatkin conducts L’Enfant et les sortileges

First published in the Guardian on 8 October, 2015

Ravel’s dark fairytale opera L’enfant et les sortileges opens with just a pair of roaming oboes, one of the most ambiguous and beguiling 90 seconds in all opera. Leonard Slatkin’s new recording with the Orchestre National de Lyon is solid, affectionate and tinged with a melancholy that is touching, but it all feels a bit grownup. Things never get properly zany, magical or sinister. Orchestral colours are well defined but a bit tame. The galling final scene is matter-of-fact. Those oboes roam with feet staunchly on the ground. Vocal performances are relaxed and characterful, cabaret louche in parts and sparky in dialogue. Helene Hebrard sounds beautiful in the title role, though this naughty Child is more tender and reflective than brazenly petulant. The other work on the disc is the ballet music to Mother Goose, and again Slatkin’s fairytale world is beautifully calibrated but rather solemn and literal. Ravel, composer with the most wondrous imagination, can take a little more conjuring.