La valse; Ma mère L’Oye; Boléro; Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Valses nobles et sentimentales
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5280 (CD/SACD) 83:45 mins
Just play the notes? It is an oft-repeated maxim that Ravel’s music requires simply that performers play precisely what is written in his meticulous scores. Of course, that is easier said than done, and not merely due to the often-virtuosic writing. Nonetheless, this superbly played and sumptuously recorded disc from the Sinfonia of London and John Wilson amply demonstrates the profound benefits of trusting Ravel. Has Ma mère l’Oye ever sounded more gorgeous or affecting? Every nuance of ‘Laideronnette’ is carefully crafted with no sense of fussiness, while the easing into the final shimmering climax of the fairy garden is judged perfectly, the spacious surround sound giving lustre to the iridescent colours.
Wilson’s pacing of Pavane pour une infante défunte is equally assured, capturing its melancholic nobility. Throughout, innumerable exquisite details catch the ear, such as the delicate dustings of cymbal in the central section of Alborada del gracioso or the lithe figurations of the inner strings in the opening of Valses nobles et sentimentales.
The slight caveat comes with the works that frame the disc. The opening La valse has plenty of style and panache, and the playing is stunning. Yet, rather than careering towards cataclysm, the conclusion is neatly parked. Similarly, Wilson impressively maintains Ravel’s speed in Boléro unwaveringly beneath the delightfully characterised solos. Tenacity becomes rigidity, though, when the harmonic gear change at the end passes entirely unacknowledged. No crude distortion from Ravel’s score is needed. Just a little of the humanity apparent in abundance elsewhere.