Ravel: Sheherazade; Bolero; La valse; Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour tine infante defunte

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LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Sheherazade; Bolero; La valse; Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour tine infante defunte
PERFORMER: Arleen Auger (soprano) Philharmonia/Libor Pesek
Pesek and the Philharmonia deliver some very ‘live’ Ravel, full of engaging finesse and grace. After La valse has emerged from the mists, it tautens steadily towards delirium, but stops short of the vortex of destruction that others – Inbal, for example – can whip up. The Pavane is eloquent and grave, and so affectionate it almost stops halfway. For Bolero, Pesek starts at just the right tempo, though he broadens it a fraction. As a centrepiece, Auger’s singing of Sheherazade is beautifully shaped, starting eagerly in each song and darkening as the poems turn dangerous. The climax of the first is a real release, beautifully carried through by the orchestra. If you are used to the sumptuous recording by Régine Crespin, a long-established classic, you may feel this is short on sheer lust — that it’s just too nice. But it’s a properly contemporary performance, both controlled and sensuous, in a fine acoustic, close enough to catch the strings scrambling at the end of La valse.


The ‘Complete Orchestral Works’ from Denon exclude the Sheherazade songs, the early overture of the same name and the concertos, and, instead, put in orchestrations of other music, including Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.


This is a viable alternative to the Dutoit/Montreal set. The recording is strong in lower registers, revealing deliciously subtle perspectives in, for instance, the sunrise scene of Daphnis and Chloe. The performances, too, often emphasise the music’s dark side, with a biting Alborada and a battering Bolero. They can stay square-cut and earthbound, as at the end of a very spacious Daphnis, but there are moments of real flair such as the wild fling at the end of Rapsodie espagnole. Robert Maycock