The picture on the
cover of this CD – a daub of red paint
– is wonderfully apt. Ravel was an expert
orchestral colourist, and often turned
his hand to the orchestration of piano
works, by himself and by others. His
version of Mussorgsky's Pictures
at an Exhibition, commissioned by
Koussevitsky, is the most famous
and most popular of that work's many
orchestral guises. Talent has here harnessed
a fine performance of that masterpiece
to a group of Ravel's less familiar
The disc opens with
Chabrier's Menuet Pompeux, painted
in bright orchestral colours by Ravel.
The opening martial theme has a Spanish
flavour that recalls Chabrier's Espaňa.
The second subject, by contrast, is
almost Elgarian in its wistfulness.
While its thematic material does not
really sustain a full seven minutes,
this is lovely music, lovingly rendered
for orchestra and performed with charm.
Of the two Debussy numbers, the first
brims with humour and warmth. Together
with the Chabrier, this piece is the
sort of bonbon Beecham would have loved.
I wonder if he ever conducted these
The Sarabande is quite different
in feel. Ravel's orchestration is subtler
here, paying tribute to the Bachian
inspiration of the original piece for
piano, which in its revised form is
the centrepiece of Debussy's gorgeous
Pour le piano.
The extracts from Schumann's Carnaval
came as a bit of a shock to the
system. Accustomed as I am to Gavrilov’s
vigorous approach to the piano score,
Ravel's orchestration struck me as unidiomatic
or, to be more precise, un-Germanic
and decidedly French. Nevertheless,
the orchestrations have a suave beauty
and are beguiling pieces in their own
You can find better performances of
Pictures at an Exhibition than the
one that closes this disc, but there
is not much to complain about in this
performance. Callegari secures lovely
playing from his orchestra, with each
Promenade well paced and well
phrased, a vigorous Baba Yaga,
and a flowing Great Gate of Kiev
that refuses to wallow in grandeur.
Sure, Gnomus could be more menacing,
and the tempo manipulation in Tuileries
sounds a little mannered, but on
the whole this is a very enjoyable performance.
The playing of the Royal Flemish Orchestra
is lovely throughout. They have a clean,
clear sound – light in the base and
so lacking some Russian edge, but then
again this is Ravel's orchestration,
and the French composer was himself
concerned with smoothing some of the
rougher edges of the piano score. Although
I listened to this disc in stereo rather
than SACD format, I found the sound
admirably clear and well balanced. The
liner notes are brief and the English
translation of the original French text
is odd, but not entirely unhelpful.
This is a delightful disc and a worthy
addition to the Ravel discography.