Aureole etc.




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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
The Very Best of Ravel
CD1
1. Valses nobles et sentimentales No.3 Modéré  [1:19]
2. Valses nobles et sentimentales No.6 Assez vif [0:59]
3. Sonatine, I. Modéré [3:57]
4. Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet [10:18]
5. Menuet sur le nom de Haydn [1:43]
6. Pavane pour une infante defunte [5:57]
7. Miroirs, IV. Alborada del gracioso [5:57]
8. Rapsodie espagnole III. Habanera [2:50]
9. Violin Sonata, II. Blues: Moderato [5:24]
10. Chants populaires, No.1 Chanson espagnole [2:25]
11. Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand [18:24]
12. La Valse [13:08]
CD2
1. Daphnis et Chloë Suite no.2 [16:28]
2. Jeux d'eau [4:58]
3. String Quartet in F major, II. Assez vif [6:32]
4. Gaspard de la nuit I. Ondine [5:57]
5. Tzigane [9:32]
6. Le Tombeau de Couperin V. Menuet [4:17]
7. Don Quichotte à Dulcinée I. Chanson Romanesque [2:23]
8. Ma mere l'oye V. Le jardin féerique [3:51]
9. Piano Concerto in G major, No.2 Adagio assai [8:25]
10. Boléro [13:36]
Conductors: Kenneth Jean, Adrian Leaper, Antoni Wit, Takuo Yuasa,
Orchestras: Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Ensembles: Ad Libitum Quartet, Kodaly Quartet
Choir: Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Artists: David Abramovitz, Claire Brua, Pascal Devoyon, Zoltan Gyongyossy, Dong-Suk Kang, Bela Kovacs, Eva Maros, Laurent Naouri, Francois-Joel Thiollier, Howard Zhang,
Full list of artists given on Naxos web-site: www.naxos.com
NAXOS 8.552125-26 [73:20 + 76:28]

 

 

These CDs undoubtedly form a good introduction to the music of Maurice Ravel.  No mere tit-bits here; there are several quite substantial works given in full, including La Valse, the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, the Introduction and Allegro for Harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet and several more.  And the selection really does give a flavour of the broad spectrum of the composer's work - from the Neo-Classicism of Le Tombeau de Couperin to the Blues of the Violin Sonata.

CD1 begins in a slightly peculiar way, with two rather inconsequential and very brief movements from the Valses nobles et sentimentales. Lovely as these are, they don't stand on their own particularly well.  After that things gradually get underway, with the opening movement of the lovely Sonatine for piano, stylishly played by Francois-Joel Thiollier.  Sadly, the recording of this and the other piano works found on the discs is very boxy and unflattering.  That is followed by the aforementioned Introduction and Allegro, one of the composer's most characteristic works. Not a particularly inspiring performance, however (Kodály Quartet with harpist Eva Maros), a little lacking in sparkle, and with a singularly pedestrian conclusion.

The highlight on the first disc is the very fine account of that maverick masterpiece, the Piano Concerto for Left Hand.  The pianist is the young Georgian Elissa Virsaladze, who plays with authority and fire, and is well supported by the St.Petersburg Philharmonic under Alekseev.  The quite slow tempi the performers adopt allow the jazz rhythms to register, while the melancholy, even tragic, undertow of the work comes across powerfully, too.  As do the extraordinary touches in the orchestration, e.g. the long contrabassoon solo at the very beginning as the work climbs from Stygian depths.

CD2 begins with the whole of the second Daphnis et Chloë suite (complete with wordless chorus), then more boxy piano for Jeux d'eau - what a pity, because Thiollier plays it quite beautifully, and I admit I forgot about the recording's shortcomings as the piece unfolded.  One of my favourite movements of all time, the gorgeous Assez vif from the string quartet follows, in a vivacious performance by the Ad Libitum Quartet.

Quite naturally, much the larger part of the music here is instrumental, as that is what we chiefly associate with Ravel.  But the two songs, one on each disc, remind us what vocal riches he left, too.  On Disc 1, the rich alto of Claire Brua gives us one of the delicious Chansons espagnoles, while on Disc 2, baritone Laurent Naouri sings one of the songs from the cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée.  Naouri has a very light, young voice, not yet fully settled, though he is extremely sensitive in his projection of the text.

The last two tracks seem to epitomise the extremes of Ravel's aesthetic.  The slow movement of the G major Piano Concerto is an avowed tribute to Mozart, and as such is one of the most rarefied of 20th century concerto movements.  And then what?  Why, of course, that old pot-boiler Boléro.  Well, every great man has his weak spot!  We mustn't forget, though, that Boléro was an experiment, and a daring one at that, aimed at finding out how far repetition as a musical device could be pushed.  Well, Minimalism has taught us that it's possible (if not advisable) to go much further than Ravel thought possible, hasn't it?

Listening to these CDs, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and variety of Ravel's output; one should never lose sensitivity to that.  OK, he may not be as 'great' or 'major' a composer as Debussy or Stravinsky.  But, for this listener anyway, he never loses that capacity to stun with the sheer gorgeousness of the music his imagination and talent enabled him to create.  For that reason alone, he is a World Cup winner amongst French composers (I write this as the outcome of The Final is unknown - and by tomorrow will in any case be far less important in the great scheme of things than Ravel's tiniest composition!).

So, a hugely enjoyable compilation; a private word to Naxos, though, if I may.  The prime function of an issue like this is, presumably, to tickle the palate of those as yet not very familiar with Ravel and his music.  But finding the information to take the next step, i.e. actually buy some on CD, could be made a LOT easier!  Why not include source information for each recording in the disc booklet, rather than require listeners to go the web-site?  For one thing, not everybody in the world has access to the internet, or indeed a computer!  It's a small carp (as the fisherman said) but I think a valid one.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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