Ravel: Alyssa; Alcyone; Myrrha

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WORKS: Alyssa; Alcyone; Myrrha
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens, Mireille Delunsch, Norah Amsellem (soprano), Béatrice Uria-Monzon (mezzo-soprano), Yann Beuron, Paul Groves (tenor), Ludovic Tézier, Marc Barrard (baritone); Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
This is a disc for the Francophile who thinks that they have everything. Myrrha (1901), Alcyone (1902) and Alyssa (1903) are the three cantatas composed by Ravel in his doomed bid for the Paris Conservatoire’s prestigious Prix de Rome for composers. Feeling that he was a financial burden on his family, Ravel entered the competition five times in all and was adjudged not talented enough even to proceed to the final round on both his first and the last attempts (1900 and 1905 respectively). By the time of the latter, Ravel was making a name for himself and the scandal that his rejection by the reactionary competition panel provoked led to the resignation of the director of the Conservatoire.


Written for the three occasions that Ravel did reach the final, these cantatas are a curious amalgam of styles. The opening of Alyssa, for instance, is reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov, but Gounod and Massenet rapidly come to the fore. Sometimes Ravel is flattering the conservative tastes of the panel, elsewhere his own instincts come to the fore, and on occasions the young composer is being deliberately provocative. Performances are superb, the sublime Véronique Gens being the pick of the soloists. A fascinating disc. Christopher Dingle