Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole; Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2; La valse; Boléro; Pavane pour une infante défunte

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Rapsodie espagnole; Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2; La valse; Boléro; Pavane pour une infante défunte
PERFORMER: Orchestre de Paris/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: 438 209-2 DDD
The gradual softening of Pierre Boulez’s approach to his beloved 20th-century classics has been much commented upon; but nowhere is it more in evidence than in this new set of Ravel performances. Boulez’s previous, rather hard-edged versions of these works (CBS/Sony) were made in Cleveland and New York; his new relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic has resulted in music-making that is more flexible, and an orchestral sound which is sensuous, refined and indulgent to the ear. I like his way with the delicately (but expertly) scored world of Ma mère l’oye, and also his attention to detail in the Rapsodie espagnole. Boléro also works well: the players evidently recall the discipline of so many performances with Karajan.

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Bychkov’s collection contains much fine playing, though I don’t feel it makes such a satisfying programme as the DG disc. The end of Daphnis, followed by La valse and then Boléro, is surely a dance too far.Again the approach is a highly sensitive one, with some fine wind solos in the Pavane and the Rapsodie. The end of La valse is fast and furious, though it lacks the apocalyptic grandeur which some conductors bring to it. But Boléro hits the mark again: give me this brand of minimalism any day. Stephen Maddock