Collections of this sort are generally aimed at public libraries
or beginning collectors ó persons who have heard and liked some Ravel
and would like to hear more, but donít know what to buy, and are seduced
by a low price. And they could surely do a lot worse than to buy this
collection. All the performances are first rate and the sound is very
good. But for the serious collector who already has all this music in
his or her own choice of the very best performances, there is little here
For those who like myself are devotees of the work
of Charles Munch, this version of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales
was a surprise to me; I didnít know it existed, and it is a fine performance
worthy of the master. Of course one would also want to have the Fritz
Reiner/Chicago SO version (that performance on RCA may be the reason
they never recorded Munch doing this music) and us old guys would never
be without Pedro de Freitas Branco and the Champs Elysées Theatre
Orchestra on a 1951 monophonic Westminster LP (That stupendous Ducretet-Thomson
master tape is apparently now owned by EMI and so far as I know has
never made it to CD).
Michael Tilson Thomasís Ma Mère LíOye
is inferior to the Munch/Boston SO version on RCA/BMG. Thomasís performance
sounds "self conscious," and I guess what I mean by that is
that the conductor doesnít seem to know the music well enough to feel
completely confident. And, compared to the Munch recording the instrumental
balances are not as precise nor is the sound as clean although I believe
the Thomas recording is actually newer. The notes to this issue do not
give recording dates.
Entremontís piano performances are thoughtful, colourful,
and dramatic, but lack only that final bit of grace, polish and delicacy
that Vlado Perlemuter and some others bring to this music. Same with
the String Quartet; very well played but lacking only the final
touch of dash and lightness.
What a pity Sony didnít include here Leonard Bernsteinís
recording of the Concerto in g, one of the conductor/pianistís
most distinguished recordings and my choice for the best recording of
this work ever made ó and hence still only available singly and at full
The Pavane receives an excellent performance
with just the right measure of detachment from George Szell. It is useful
to be reminded that Ravel did NOT title this piece "Pavane pour
une Princesse Morte." Playing it as though it were a Kindertotenlied
misses one point of the music. Itís a joke, son, at least partially.
"Defunct Infanta" in the title sounds just as silly in French
as it does in English and like the "Alborada del Gracioso"
it is to be taken with a touch of Rimbaud and Satie ó a word game, best
not translated. Great Ravel performances always have a touch of detachment
and irony, and these titles are supposed to guide the performer in the
Now that Iíve said that, we come to what may be the
one exception in Ravelís oeuvre: Rapsodie Espagnole. Here the
romance can be piled on, the quiet parts very, very mysterious and the
exciting parts pedal to the floor. Bernstein on EMI does a terrific
job with this work, but so does Ormandy and nearly everybody else because
it offers no problems to the conductor.
Boléro was another of Ravelís musical
jokes, an essay in changing tone colours over an unchanging cyclically
repeated phrase. Toscanini started the fashion of accelerating it, infuriating
Ravel but laying the foundation for the workís present popularity. Ormandy
does a great job here following the composerís original tempo intentions.
Again, us old guys will never be without Branco and the Champs Elysées
Theatre Orchestra, and thereís also a good one with Hermann Scherchen
on Millennium Classics/Wesminster which also uses all the correct original
Ravelís extremely rich orchestral and piano sound has
tended to drive the envelope in recording technology. These recordings,
most of which are old enough to have voted for President Clinton, lack
a little in transparency, display restricted transient response and
some harshness in the upper register. Audiophiles will find their favourite
Ravel among more recent all-digital recordings.