Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) CD1 Boléro (1928) [14.56] Shéhérazade: Ouverture de féerie (1903) [13.47] Rapsodie espagnole (1907) [16.06] Menuet antique (1909) [6.19] La Valse (1920) [12.35] CD2 Ma Mère l’Oye (1908) [36.44] Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917) [17.56] Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) [6.32] Alborada del gracioso (1905) [7.53] Une Barque sur l’océan (1905) [7.18] CD3 Daphnis et Chloé (1912) [56.25] Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) [16.35]
André Sennedat (bassoon) (Alborada)
Michel Garcin-Marrou (horn) (Pavane)
Choeurs du Théâtre National de l’Opéra
Orchestre de Paris/Jean Martinon
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, July–October 1974, DDD EMI CLASSICS TRIPLE
5008922 [3 CDs: 63:23 + 76.23 + 73.00]
When Pathé-EMI recorded
their well-nigh comprehensive Debussy and Ravel series in
Paris in 1973 and 1974 little did they think that these readings
would have had such a long and commercially bountiful shelf-life.
The investment has been repaid many times over. I lose track
of the number of combinations in which these have been reissued
over the years. Originally they appeared in two opulently
decadent HMV SLS boxes (Ravel SLS 5016 and Debussy SLS 893;
5 LPs in each and weighing a ton). In the case of Ravel the
set also included the two piano concertos and Tzigane.
Each was adorned with a Bakst canvas. Swathes drawn from
each set have appeared in various boxes: EMI double fortes
CZS5 72667 2 and CZS5 72673-2 for Debussy and one Ravel CZS5
68610-2. No doubt French EMI have also
issued the same tapes in many different guises and formats.
Here the recordings put in yet another appearance and very
welcome too. Their intrinsic artistic and technical faculties
are completely intact.
is joyously liberated. Atmosphere and the recreation of front-to-back
and left-to-right depth continues to
work as well as it did on the original black vinyls. Of course
these were performances taken down onto analogue stock but
aside from an unassertive tape hiss, only audible when you
drive the loudspeakers really hard, there are no untoward
results and nothing approaching distortion.
Martinon was born
in 1910 in Lyon. He studied with d'Indy and Roussel playing
the violin in the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. After further
studies at the Sorbonne he worked with Munch and Désormière.
In the Second World War he served with the French Army and
was taken prisoner in 1940, spending two years in a POW camp
escaping three times. While in captivity he wrote a symphony
(the first of five), a motet Absolve domine in memory
of French musicians who died in the war and a setting of Psalm
136 which became known as Chants des Captifs.
Release in 1943 saw him appointed conductor of the Bordeaux
orchestra and then, as assistant to Munch, at the Paris Conservatoire
Orchestra. He was principal conductor of the ORTF Orchestra
from 1968 until his death. We tend to forget that the present
recordings were made within a couple of years of Martinon's
death in 1976 though they show no sign of palling imagination. Martinon's
elegance and sound technique were a byword in the profession.
His interpretations are strong on clarity. He was mild of
temperament and was not inclined to dive into the sort of
blazing rows so relished by some conductors. To some degree
he came to regret that he was so strongly
associated with French music rather as Boult and Handley
have been so tightly bound up with English music. Martinon
hankered to conduct Mahler but death intervened.
I was brought up
on Ravel drawn from the exported Gallic interpretations of
Serge Baudo and Antonio Pedrotti with the Czech Philharmonic
(Supraphon and Rediffusion LPs). I recall Baudo’s explosive Boléro and
the pointilliste delicate poetry of Pedrotti’s Ma Mère
l’Oye - a reading matched only twice since then - once
in a unforgettable concert performance by Louis Frémaux (City
of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Bristol’s Colston Hall
circa 1974) and then in Monteux’s Philips recording - once
issued on a Universo LP and now reissued on a ‘Philips 50
The playing for
Martinon is hallmarked by tubby French brass and woodwind
but the Boléro is stupendously raw and ultimately
brash; lacking – thank heavens! - the limousine refinement
of Karajan. The shimmer and tidal pull of the sea is clear
from Barque sur l'océan with a Frank Bridge parallel
at 1.45 (The Sea). In the case of Ma Mère
l’Oye I am not quite wooed away from the lovely Monteux
recording but this is the complete ballet. The more
I hear this work the more I regard it as a masterpiece of
the gentlest beauty. In the case of Jardin Féerique this
magic is coupled with the triumph of the carillon and richly-swept
Alborada snaps and prattles
away but the engineers noticeably pull back on the controls
at 0.50 as the full orchestra enters. This leaches away some
of the effect. Rapsodie receives a performance as
ecstatic and yet as finely painted as you could want though
again it does not supplant Monteux (Philips). The Shéhérazade
- Ouverture de féerie is a very early work written when
Ravel was only 24. It looks hopefully towards Rimsky and
Balakirev yet leavens the mix with auguries of Ravel's maturity.
The recording of La
Valse makes you aware how alive this is - bristling
with directional information and life. Martinon breathes
and blows on the silky drapes with a wayward warmth and
a knowledge borne of years of experience. Every little
gradation of dynamic is exploited and yet the conductor
keeps up the pulse. It reels with a perfumed suggestion
The Tombeau dates
from the years of the Great War and was dedicated to six
friends killed in action. The Rigaudon is notable
for the way the dazzling trumpets ‘sit on top’ of the flibbertigibbet
rhythmic spasm. The Pavane is a peaceful refuge. The Valses
Nobles et Sentimentales is again
rich with directional information and orchestral detail.
The sound is warm and honeyed throughout and the performances
are to match. The Daphnis has a wonderfully built Lever
du Jour. This is playing soused in intoxicants, bathed
in ecstatic abandon. Track 9 of Daphnis has a wind
machine that makes a sympathetic zephyr-like breath rather
than a Scott of the Antarctic bone-chill. At tr. 16 the evocation
of dewy-leafage and birdsong rises and stretches to welcome
a softened victorious dawn.
The booklet has
full notes. These are newly commissioned from Roger Nichols
and are also translated into French and German.
Of course a life's
mission will probably yield up better interpretations. The
platitudinous caveat about boxed sets will apply but if you
were to start your Ravel and Debussy collection here you
would have been fortunate indeed. Personally I have a preference
for Monteux in Ma Mère l'Oye and Pavane, for
Fournet, Baudo and Pedrotti in various Czech-based interpretations
of this territory, for Paray's Detroit recordings and some
time ago Ozawa's Boston Ravel surprised me (agreeably) on
a DG Panorama set. Tilson Thomas is also well worth
hearing. An excellent budget alternative is on Vox with Skrowaczewski
conducting the Minnesota Orchestra at about the same time
as these Paris sessions. Others revere Boulez, Haitink and
Karajan. However as a single Gallic cornerstone to your collection
which you might leave as the only Ravel entry for years you
can hardly better this.
the collector who chances on this set; delight and revelation await.
At bargain price this is a gift that
will cast its smiling spell for years to come.
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