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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloe (1912-13) Suites 1 and 2
Rapsodie espagnole (1907)
La valse (1920)
Bolero (1928)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel.
Rec. Grosser Saal des Wiener Musikverein, Vienna, 7, 10-11 June 1996
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 60868 2 [75:13]

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There are of course many recordings in the catalogues of all these popular colourful Ravel works. Although these Maazel readings would not cause me to throw out my favourite recordings, they are all nicely atmospheric, exotic and energetic.

The Daphnis et Chloé Suites are without chorus. Maazel’s wonderfully atmospheric, poetic readings have a lovely shimmering diaphanous beauty. The music is nicely shaped and balanced and a model of clarity, fragrant and voluptuous. In the first suite the contrasting torch-lit pirates’ Danse guerrière is fiery and muscular while the concluding bacchanal of the second suite is excitingly hedonistic.

Maazel delivers a characterful, idiosyncratic rendering of the Bolero. The climax has a regimental swagger with very sardonic closing bars. On the way, for instance, the early solo woodwinds are laid back, almost uninvolving. Later, the trombones seeming to echo their sense of ennui, add something of jazzy blues while, contrastingly, the trumpets are quite snappy. The snare drum is better integrated into the orchestral fabric than in many recordings. Maazel’s La Valse is very atmospheric, even tingling; acidly sardonic and certainly suggestive of a crumbling Imperial Viennese world. Its voluptuousness overpowers any tenderness while the coda suggests Stravinsky at his wildest. Turning to Maazel’s Rhapsodie espagnole: his ‘Malaguena’ is sensual and sultry, the ‘Habanera’ fluid, nicely inflected and languid - and slightly sinister; while the brilliantly coloured concluding Feria is exciting enough.

This RCA Red Seal reissue may boast superior sound but it cannot dispel, for me, the magic of two older recordings of the complete Daphnis et Chloé ballet: Charles Munch’s 1955 RCA recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory Choir, and Monteux’s brilliant Decca recording of 1959 with the Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the London Symphony Orchestra. The 1995 DG Boulez recording, complete with chorus is also rated well. Monteux is a premiere recommendation for the remaining items, so, too, is Karajan.

Confident recommendations of colourful, sensual renditions of these favourite Ravel works. But buyers are recommended to sample the competition.

Ian Lace

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