Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma Mère l'Oye (complete ballet) (1911)
La Valse (1919)
Pavane pour une Infante défunte (1910)
Rapsodie Espagnole (1910)
Boléro (1928)
London SO/Pierre Monteux
rec Dec 1961 Kingsway Hall, London; Feb 1964, Wembley Town Hall, London ADD
PHILIPS 464 733-2 [77.13]
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This is another palpable hit in the otherwise splashily selected Philips Fifty series. Thank heavens Philips have left behind the old pattern of exactly replicating contents of the original LPs into the CDs. Here, not only do we have the pieces on the old 1972 Universo LP but also the Pavane and complete ballet from the Decca collection. This is one of the joys of the Universal conglomerate - that it can create generous compilations. Interesting though that Decca recordings are to be used in the Philips Fifty collection. Small incongruities are irrelevant in the face of such a harvest.

I used to have that Universo LP in my collection. Its cheaply designed but memorable sleeve cover appears on the front of the CD booklet. Oddly enough apart from being included in a Philips 5CD Monteux retrospective (issued in the 1980s) that Universo collection (later reissued on a Sequenza LP) never made it to silver disc. Contrast the Decca collection (Pavane and ballet) which was reissued several times over by Decca in various mid-price series.

The credentials of Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) in this repertoire were well nigh impeccable. He was the chosen conductor of Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes and conducted the premieres of Daphnis, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. He served with the French Army in 1913 and 1914 seeing action at Verdun. He was released from service to go to the USA to help with the propaganda effort and was appointed Music Director of the Boston Symphony 1919-24. He was permanent conductor of the San Francisco Symphony from 1935 to 1952.

His lack of pretension and flamboyance endeared him to many. He usually conducted without a score and was undemonstrative in his movements. He admitted that those pieces which he was called on to conduct time after time (like the Ravel and Debussy) began to lose their interest to him. Fortunately this does not show despite the fact that these recordings were made when Monteux was 86 and 89. He was not the young 'brand' of the 1910s and 1920s. This makes the vibrancy of his interpretations all the more wondrous even if the impression left is of a languid tendency.

From the softest of feathery fanfares in the Prélude to the fruity sharp Danse du rouet to the almost-touch sleepy signature of the Pavane, to the nostalgie of Petit Poucet, to the water-carrier silky chinoiserie of Laideronnette, to the symphonic summation in bell-swung tenderness of Le Jardin féerique Monteux handles this mayfly wing creation with coaxing tenderness. Hearing that apotheosis prompts thoughts of Frank Bridge's Enter Spring and John Foulds' April-England.

There are many joys to be garnered. These include the nicely defined flutter-tongued flute of the opening bars of La Valse (later to be used by Louis Aubert in his no less striking marine-fantasy Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand) to the ppp bass chord at 1.40 in the beautifully rendered Pavane. In the Rapsodie there is a palpable deliberation in the Malagueña and Habanera and when did the cow-bells register as clearly (and subtly) in Habanera as at 1.12. In the Feria Monteux creates time and space for details to register - e.g. the harp runs and dreamy baritonal glissandi at 4.02. I suspect the engineers pulled back on the controls for that bass drum thwack at the end. A pity because its etiolated impact somewhat saps the climactic last page.

Spatial illusion is, in general, well caught including a nicely distanced pattering side-drum in Boléro. A trace of hardness has entered the soul of the violins and there is a low level of hiss declaring the iron oxide origins of the tapes. Nothing to discourage unduly.

This is a desirable collection (complemented by Max Harrison's distinguished notes) for those liking their Ravel lovingly done with understatement and with colour. These pieces were old friends to Monteux and he bids them farewell in sessions dating from the year of his death and four years before that.

Rob Barnett

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