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Maurice RAVEL (1873-1937)
Orchestral Works - Volume II
Pavane pour une infante défunte [6:17]
Ma mère l’oye [29:58]
Une barque sur l’océan [7:34]
Shéhérazade, ouverture [13:35]
Menuet antique [7:06]
L’Éventail de Jeanne: Fanfare [1:50]
SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart/Stéphane Denève
rec. dates and locations not supplied
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 93.325 [66:20]

Stéphane Denève took his time before beginning to conduct Ravel, first covering orchestral works by his contemporaries Roussel and Debussy. That said, he is certainly up to the challenge, and here comes within striking distance of completing the French Impressionist Trifecta.

If this disc has a flaw, it’s the pacing. There is almost no fast music anywhere on it. You get the one fast scene in Mother Goose, the Shéhérazade overture, and a fanfare. The rest is the very finest of Ravel’s slower, dreamier sound-worlds. So don’t put it on expecting excitement.

Starting the disc with Pavane is a bold move, but it’s a good performance. The only way to ruin this piece is to introduce excessive personality, and make it overly weepy or sentimental. Denève smartly avoids the trap.

The Mother Goose performance is very good indeed, with a lot of wonderful orchestral detail - like the harp-flute dialogue before the pagoda scene. What’s most impressive is the truly French sound of the SWR Orchestra Stuttgart; after years under Roger Norrington, who asked them to use no vibrato and turned them into a laboratory for his peculiar notions, the SWR band has done a total about-face under Denève. It’s a sign of their extraordinary standards of professionalism. Comparing this disc to the Orchestre National de Lyon Ravel recordings on Naxos, the Stuttgart players sound far better than the French. My only complaint about Mother Goose: right at the very end, you can’t hear the sweeping harp glissandi that are half the fun. This is most audible on Jean Martinon’s classic EMI album.

The rest of the CD is odds and ends. They’re all gorgeously played, like Une barque - this seascape shows more impressionist nuance than the only Denève recording I’ve ever disliked: his Debussy La mer. Menuet antique, the Shéhérazade overture, and the fanfare Ravel composed for a group collaboration ballet are only heard in “complete orchestral works” collections like this one, but are certainly fun. It might have been smart to mix the track-list more thoroughly, to alternate famous and obscure works and to achieve a better alternation of fast and slow.

Sound quality is up to the highest of standards. Trust in German engineering, diesel engines aside. The Hänssler - SWR Music label has some of the highest standards in the business. My copy was a set of FLACs downloaded from eClassical.

Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey



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