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Maurice RAVEL (1875 - 1937)
Pavane pour une Infante Défunte (1899/orch. 1910)
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
Ma Mère LíOye (Suite) (1911)
London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1911/orch. 1912)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Charles Munch
Rapsodie Espagnole (1908)
Boléro (1928)
La Valse (1920)
Alborada del Gracioso (1905/orch 1918)
Concerto in g (1931)
Philippe Entremont, piano
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Gaspard de la Nuit (1980)
Tombeau de Couperin (1917)
Sonatine (1905)
Jeux díeau (1901)
Philippe Entremont, piano
String Quartet in F (1903)
Tokyo String Quartet
No recording information supplied but were recorded various location 30-40 years ago [ADD]
SONY SBK 509556 2
[3 CDs: 205.27]


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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 to recommend.

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 price.

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 right direction.

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 instruments.

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.

Paul Shoemaker

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