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Maurice RAVEL ( 1875 - 1937)
Orchestral Music
CD1 [61.26]
1. Rapsodie espagnole [15.31]
2. Alborada del graciosa [ 7.10]
3. Don Quichotte à Dulcinée [ 6.58] Three poems by Paul Morand for baritone with orchestral accompaniment.(With Stephen Roberts -baritone)
4. Tzigane [10.21] Concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra
5. Pavane pour une infante défunte [ 6.08]
6. Bolero [14.38]
CD2 [75.36]
7. Valses nobles et sentimentales [17.20]
8. Menuet antique [ 6.28]
9. Le Tombeau de Couperin (orchestral suite) [16.26]
10.Une barque sur l'océan [ 8.07]
11.Ma Mère l'oye (complete ballet) [26.44]
CD3 [69.54]
12.Shéhérazade: Ouverture de féerie [13.03]
13.Shéhérazade: Trois Poèmes [17.04] for voice and orchestra on verses by Tristan Klingsor Linda Finnie (mezzo soprano)
14.Introduction and Allegro [11.12] For harp with string orchestra (quartet),flute and clarinet accompaniment Rachel Masters (harp)
15.L'Eventail de Jeanne: Fanfare [ 1.29]
16.Trio in A Minor (orchestrated by Yan Pascal Tortelier)
CD4 [67.26]
17.Daphnis and Chloé (complete ballet) [55.09]
Renaissance Singers, Belfast Philharmonic Society
18.La Valse [12.08]
Ulster Orchestra
Jan Pascal Tortelier (cond)
Recorded Ulster Hall,Belfast.
26/6/89 ( 5,9 ), 5-8/12/89 (1,2,6), 31/10/88 (11), 2/10/89 (7), 19/2/91 (8), 4/6/92 (10), 29-30/5/90 ( 12,13),20/2/91 (14), 29/5/91 (15),3-4/6/92 (16), 26-28/5/90 (17), 18/2/91 (18), 16/8/90 (3,4). DDD

CHANDOS Enchant 7100 (4) [274.22]

The Chandos bargain label Enchant is the new home for the re-issued comprehensive selection of Maurice Ravel's orchestral works with the Ulster Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier. These were released singly in the early 90's and are now grouped as 4 CD's in one box (also available separately). No extra booklet is included, the discs with their own inserts making up the package. With the exception of the piano concertos all his purely orchestral works are included in a generously filled collection, and as extras there are arrangements of his A Minor Trio, the Introduction and Allegro and settings for voice.

Ravel's Spanish influenced works make up CD1. Born just on the French side of the Franco/Spanish border, and taken to Paris as a baby his true contact with Spain came from his mother who was Basque - he scarcely knew Spain other than as a tourist late in life. Rapsodie Espagnol with its five-movement evocation of the sights and sounds of the country is splendidly played with fine woodwinds, lots of authentic-sounding rhythmic drive and a frenetic ending to Feria. Alborado del gracioso is a showpiece, here played thrillingly with immense dash and spirit. The three sections of Don Quichotte à Dulcinée represent facets of the Don's life in a piece that was originally intended for Chaliapin to sing in a film commission and was Ravel's last work. Sung here by a baritone - Stephen Roberts, with a pleasing range and timbre, who manages to characterise the three elements well in a brief, but attractive work. Tortelier is technically impressive when he takes on the violin soloist's role himself in Tzigane though overall I felt that some degree of excitement was sacrificed by the dual challenge.

The last two works have become known to a wider public through their uses on television - Pavane pour une infante défunte as introductory music for the World Cup and the Bolero through some ice skating event or other - the latter an event I personally found as boring as the music. Here on this disc they are both heard as they should be - divorced from non-musical distractions. The Pavane is one of those pieces that Ravel orchestrated from a piano score and its transparency and haunting melody is a delight while the Bolero is a work that has had all sorts of rude things said about it (not least by the composer himself), but in fairness when it's as well played as here it does have something. Tortelier keeps the tempo taut and steady and never lets it vary - an essential ingredient in generating tension - and the orchestra responds magnificently.

CD2 has three extended works and two short pieces. In the eight waltzes that make up Valses nobles et sentimentales the Ulster playing is fresh and alert with some refined woodwind playing and a slightly languorous, almost decadent air that I found attractive. Le Tombeau de Couperin is another orchestration of a piano score (with two movements omitted) and despite its use of Couperin's name in the title the dedication (in 1917) was to six acquaintances who were killed in the war. A sombre theme, but the music is not maudlin - particularly in the Forlane with its chirpy woodwind playing and catchy melody nor in the lively closing Rigaudon (slightly reminiscent of Stravinsky's Pulcinella of the same period). The supplied notes quite properly credit the oboist Christopher Blake here. The complete Ballet Ma Mère l'oye (Mother Goose) with six scenes and a Prelude is yet more of Ravel's music that began with the piano - originally as several piano duets. The reading here is a delight with the texture so clear and tempi matching the story line the mind conjures up. The Beauty and the Beast scene is vividly portrayed and the Fairy Garden entrancing with every detail so clear. The two short pieces included are Menuet antique, a charming little work for small orchestra including some lovely writing for the woodwinds and Une barque sur l'ocèan. This was Ravel's reputed response to Debussy's La Mer that he was allegedly lukewarm towards and talked of re-orchestrating - someday. His own work was performed just once and the composition left unpublished till after his death. An interesting work with an intriguing tale attached.

Two works in unfamiliar guises are on the third CD. The Introduction and Allegro for Harp, flute and clarinet is here heard with full orchestra rather than its more familiar String Quartet form, while the Piano Trio is played in an arrangement for Orchestra by Tortelier himself. Though much of its beauty remains, the Introduction is a less attractive piece in this augmented version, with some slight thickening of the lines and a resultant coarsening and a loss of appeal in its dynamics.

The thought processes behind his arrangement of the A MinorTrio are explained in some detail in the disc notes by Tortelier. In his view the piano part needed more than could be expressed by the keyboard alone and this is where most of the orchestration is. A bold concept in a leap from trio of piano, violin and cello to full orchestra and one that went too far for my taste. He employs some highly imaginative colouring effects like the use of double basses, then bassoon for the repeated seven note phrase in the first movement, makes much use of percussion including a xylophone in the Scherzo, and leaves a brief interlude in the Passacaile when solo violin and cello remind us of the stark nobility of the original. The re-written Finale becomes a big orchestral showcase with piccolos down to contra bassoon, cymbal clashes, big drums and heavy brass. The arrangement grew on me somewhat at a second listening but strong reservations remain over the loss of intimacy and refinement in a work that finally bordered on the vulgar - the last word one would normally associate with Ravel's music.

The overture to Shéhérazade was Ravel's first orchestral work and it went into oblivion until 1975. After rescue it proves to be a pleasant pointer to later works if nothing more. The song-cycle Shéhérazade followed five years later and are here expressively sung by Linda Finnie. As with the other vocal piece on disc 1 the absence of the words and a translation is regrettable.

The ballet Daphnis and Chloé in its complete version dominates CD4. A mere three tracks are allocated to the work so the detailed synopsis lacks points to relate the story to the music - not an over costly addition for Chandos to incorporate I would have thought. Limited though guidance is, with music as programmatic as this the alert listener should follow the notes relatively easily. The musical portrayal of the Arcadian setting in Part I is convincing with its limpid lush scoring and the abrupt change of mood as the pirates appear is dramatically handled. The atmospheric Daybreak opening to Part III is splendidly done and the build-up to the frantic finale is controlled and steadily paced. A mention in passing for the impressive wordless singing by local choirs. This was an enjoyable performance that lacked the final degree of subtlety to make it one to remember. La Valse was given a hard-driven, full-blooded reading with a powerful climax.

So, four discs, generously filled, with recordings varying from good to demonstration standard, and performances never less than satisfactory and at times excellent. Good value then, and anyone wanting to widen their knowledge of Ravel's music should not hesitate.


Harry Downey

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