Ravel: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2
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Maurice Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales present a vivid mixture of atmospheric impressionism, intense expression and modernist wit, his fascination with the waltz further explored in La valse, a mysterious evocation of a vanished imperial epoch. Heard here in an orchestration by Marius Constant, Gaspard de la nuitis Ravel's response to the other-worldly poems of Aloysius Bertrand, and the dance suite Le tombeau de Couperinis a tribute to friends who fell in the war of 1914-18 as well as a great 18th century musical forbear. 'It is a delightful and assorted collection... presented in splendid performances by the Orchestre National de Lyon led by their music director, the venerable American conductor Leonard Slatkin' (Classical.net/ Volume 1, 8.572887).
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Orchestre National de Lyon Leonard Slatkin
In this, their second recording of orchestral works by Maurice Ravel, the Orchestre National de Lyon (led by the great Leonard Slatkin) gives another interesting and professional performance of his early 20th century compositions, all of which, except “La valse”, were originally written for piano.
Both “Valses nobles et sentimentales” and Le tombeau de Couperin” were orchestrated by Ravel shortly after they were written, allowing comparison of their impact as solo piano and, later orchestrated works. “La valse”, commissioned and rejected by Serge Dyagilev, is the only piece presented here which was originally done as a fully orchestrated work. All three compositions, utilizing 18th and 19th century dance forms and 20th century harmonic ideas, show Ravel as an era-straddling composer, inspired by and indebted to the past, but firmly committed to modernism and musical evolution.
The one questionable inclusion here is Maurice Constant’s orchestration of “Gaspard de la nuit”. Produced 82 years after Ravel’s original composition (again, as a solo piano piece) it is, at best, an educated guess as to the composer’s intentions.
That said, this is a solid, well made recording by a very good orchestra, led by one of the world’s best conductors, of music which is not heard as often as it deserves to be and which highlights Maurice Ravel’s contribution to the development of 20th century music.
Highly recommended 81/2 out of 10 Oscar O. Veterano
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.