ALBUM TITLE: Ravel
WORKS: Complete orchestral works
PERFORMER: Ray Chen (violin), Yuja Wang (piano); Zürcher Sing-Akademie; Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/Lionel Bringuier
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 5524
This is a box of curate’s eggs. Yuja Wang gives a performance of the Left Hand Concerto that is both brilliant and powerful, with some delicate moments in between. But she’s far less convincing in the G major, playing a number of passages too loudly, and in the Adagio parading too freely the old habit of right hand after left to try and ‘bring out’ the tune – which doesn’t need this kind of assistance, thanks to Ravel’s masterly harmonic control. In the finale she runs away in a couple of solo passages where, sadly, Marguerite Long’s example has been too generally followed, on the doubtful premise that Ravel the conductor was able to control her tempos in the spots where the orchestra could not be enlisted to rein her in.
The full ballet version of Daphnis et Chloé benefits from the Tonhalle’s warm acoustic and, like all the discs, from some excellent woodwind playing: this is the most satisfying performance in the box. Elsewhere though, the reverberation time from loud chords frequently masks the beginning of subsequent solo lines, and the more complex textures, such as those of the overture Shéhérazade and Une barque sur l’océan, need much clearer distinction between primary and secondary material – we can hear why contemporary critics of the first performance of the latter in 1907 wrote it off as, essentially, orchestral sounds in search of a structure, and why Ravel then disowned it. The main sufferer, as so often these days, is La valse, in which the composer’s demands, particularly over tempo, are again ignored, and the subtle interplay of dancing and disruption sabotaged. But my bad egg moment of the month is undoubtedly the silent bar introducing the final peroration of Alborada, which Bringuier for some reason doubles in length. Why?