This CD has going for it Naxos's excellent, detailed, close-up orchestral sound and the refined playing of Slatkin's Lyon orchestra. He's so little known for French music that it's odd to have appointed him music director, and vol. 1 of this Ravel series was only so-so. Not much has changed in the second installment. The Valses nobels et sentimentales are done in perky fashion, sticking firmly in the middle of the road. Even so, the musicians know the score like the back of their hands, and the pulse rises and falls with a few knowing Gallic winks.
Next up is a novelty, a 1990 orchestration of Gaspard de la nuit, a score so pianistic in its effects that one expects it to defy transcription, not to mention that certain effects (like the distant funeral bell that tolls throughout Le gibet) demand the utmost virtuosity. Replacing it with a bell struck by one of the percussionists isn't remotely the same thing. Some purists will hate what constant is done, but I liked it at least as much as the recently popular transcriptions of Debussy Preludes by Colin Matthews. Of course the new version isn't really a Ravel orchestral work, and it's not orchestrated as eerily or nimbly as Ravel himself would have done (see his transcription of Alborada del graciso), but it stands comparison with orchestral versions of Albeniz's Iberia.
Tombeau de Couperin flows well form the orchestra, and if Slatkin isn't really able to draw out a more piquant reading, the one he gets suffices. Finally there's La valse, long a showpiece for sound effects from a great orchestra. Slatkin's impatient pacing is meant to make the music more exciting, I suppose, but his refusal to linger deprives us of the full eerie, shadowy color palette that Ravel painted with. In all, this is a more than passable program, but t offers no serious rivalry to great Ravel conductors like Karajan, Monteux, and Munch.