Ravel: Orchestral Works Vol.2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Hänssler Classic
ALBUM TITLE: Orchestral Works Vol.2
WORKS: Pavane pour une infante défunte; Ma mère l’oye; Une barque sur l’océan; Shéhérazade – Ouverture de féerie; Menuet antique; Fanfare pour l’éventail de Jeanne
PERFORMER: Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Stéphane Denève
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.325

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Stéphane Denève for the most part coaxes a rich, warm sound from the orchestra, and supports this with slow tempos in movements like the ‘Prélude’ and ‘Le jardin féerique’ from the full ballet suite of Ma mère l’Oye. I’m perfectly happy with these speeds, but am a touch doubtful about Denève’s generous interpretation of pauses, which at times threatens continuity. The Pavane pour une infante défunte also benefits from stateliness, but in my view less from the solo horn’s light vibrato at the start: one could argue that French horn players pre-World War I were this way inclined, but to a modern ear the resultant similarity to a saxophone is unsettling.

The other four works do not show Ravel at his most characteristic. Denève does his best with them. Despite what the unreliable German liner note says (made more unreliable still by the English translation), there was no second orchestration of Une barque sur l’océan, and I feel Ravel was right to disown the first one, as he did the early overture Shéhérazade, where Rimsky-ish tinkling cannot disguise the lack of substance.

Two puzzles remain. First, why is Ravel’s 1930 orchestration of the Menuet antique so brutal, apart from the lovely bit of Chabrier in the middle? And, à propos this recording, why in the final C major chord that is the culmination of 30 glorious minutes of Ma mère l’oye, are there some three seconds of a rogue D natural in the middle of the texture?

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Roger Nichols