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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Bolero (1928) [14’28]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sarabande (orch. Ravel) (1922) [5’12]
Danse (orch. Ravel) (1922) [5’11]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) (1922) [33’03]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Recorded at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, August 1986
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2452 [58’18]




Can there really be any serious lover of classical music out there who does not possess recordings of Bolero and Pictures? Well, if there are, here’s another contender to add to your shortlist, a list that could run to well over thirty versions. This has a cheap price tag - as do quite a few others - but is not particularly generous. It does, however, have the usual advantages from this source, of superb recording quality and orchestral playing to die for.

Even in a crowded marketplace, Chailly and the Concertgebouw are always worth listening to. As their legion of admirers (including myself) know, Chailly’s ear for detail and sense of drama, coupled with an orchestra of unique sonority and wealth of great individual players, often make his recordings something of an event. This mid-1980s recording was new to me, but a real pleasure to listen to.

Bolero is on the fast side and none the worse for it. Chailly is always in complete control and things never sound rushed or scrappy. The marvellously spacious sound captures all the necessary detail of some gloriously characterful solo playing, the contours of which unfold with an almost improvisatory feel. The trombonist particularly enjoys himself – slides and all – and when those Dutch strings finally enter the fray, it’s like the icing on the cake.

Pictures is similarly colourful and distinguished. Chailly plays with the contrasts inherent in Ravel’s treatment of the orchestra so that, for instance, the sheer richness of the lower strings in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ is offset by the gentle flexibility of ‘Tuileries’. ‘Bydlo’ opens and closes mournfully, the chicks dance with dainty lightness. The grand peroration of the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ is truly resplendent, the brass and tam-tam ending what is highly satisfying reading that never becomes routine.

Ravel’s homages to his friend Debussy make up a couple of little fillers, but here buyers may feel the need to seek out something more substantial. My own library favourite for Pictures has always been Muti and the Philadelphia on EMI, coupled with a thrillingly visceral Rite of Spring. There are a wide variety of alternatives, many of them (such as Abbado’s excellent Berlin disc on DG) coupling other Mussorgsky works to great effect. But if you happen across this Eloquence re-issue and take a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

Tony Haywood



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