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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Introduction and Allegro for harp, string quartet, flute and clarinet (1905) [10:29]
Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922) [19:56]
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor (1914) [26:45]
The Nash Ensemble (Philippa Davies (flute); Michael Collins (clarinet); Marcia Crayford (violin); David Ogden (violin); Roger Chase (viola); Christopher van Kampen (cello); Ian Brown (piano); Skaila Kanga (harp))
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, 1-2 July 1986. DDD CRD 3446 [58:09]
Ravel chamber music collections are not uncommon although hardly two-a-penny. This grouping of three works is not the most obvious. It places the lambent delights of the Introduction and Allegro with two slightly more severe works; pretty severe in the case of the 1922 duo sonata.
The Nash Ensemble is major ensemble featuring elite instrumentalists playing in concert. The Introduction and Allegro purrs and basks in the Nash's attentively beatific collegiate playing. The close recording ensures that we miss very little. I still adhere to the Melos/Osian Ellis version (now on Alto) but this comes in not very far behind. The String Quartet might have been a more apposite coupling but the other two works make for a more original, less hackneyed mix. Speaking of which the subtle four movement Sonata for Violin and Cello is melodious and leans capitally on Ravel's later years gift for clean and winning subtlety. The engineer Antony Howell made a wonderful job of communicating the spatial openness of the piece. The pleasures continue into the very substantial Piano Trio, seemingly written faster than usual in the fore-shadow of the Great War. It's a passionate work picking up on or establishing a mood emulated in the chamber works of that time from Ropartz, Cras, Vierne and Witkowski. The ardently inventive Pantoum (II) casts affectionate glances backwards at the Introduction and Allegro. The finale is warmly torrential and the Nash are happy to conspire in the mood.
Roger Nichols wrote the liner-note (English only). It is superbly flowed into the liner with delightfully allusive and mood-apt illustrations. In fact that aspect of the booklet deserves a prize; superbly done.
In an ideal world the only thing that really militates against this disc is the playing time. Being within hailing distance of sixty minutes is respectable but these days something between seventy and eighty minutes is a not unreasonable expectation. The fact that the sessions took place in 1986 and the CD was issued ten years later may account for the brevity of what is otherwise a seriously attractive disc.