Ravel: Histoires Naturelles

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Histoires naturelles; Ronsard à son âme; Don Quichotte à Dulcinée; Un grand sommeil noir; Les grands vents venus d’outremer; Sur l’herbe (from Chants populaires); Noël des jouets; Deux épigrammes de Clément Marot; Cinq mélodies populaires grecques; Deux mélodies hébraïque
PERFORMER: Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67728

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When it comes to Ravel’s songs, there is hardly an embarrassment of riches in the catalogue. While there is an Aladdin’s cave of releases featuring his orchestral, chamber and piano works, recent discs of the melodies and chansons are as rare as blue diamonds, and often only the cases could be described as jewels.

It feels inadequate, then, just to describe this enchanting new collection from Gerald Finley and Julius Drake as the best modern recital devoted to the wonderfully varied world of Ravel’s songs. It is difficult for baritones to escape names such as Gerard Souzay and Gabriel Bacquier in this repertoire but, if Finley may not always match them for breezy characterisation, his richness of tone and sureness of touch ensure that he can hold his head high in their company.

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Rarely has the disturbing picture of Un grand sommeil noir been draped in such dark velvet, an inky malevolent beauty. Finley gives the melancholic affirmation of ‘Kaddisch’ its full weight of understated nobility, and is clearly having fun in the drinking song from Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. He is typically direct, yet not afraid to include a delicious slide at the mention of a fishing rod in ‘Le Martin-Pecheur’ (Histoires naturelles). Julius Drake’s warm-toned playing is, as ever, a perfect foil, all captured in Hyperion’s wonderful (for CD) sound. Riches indeed. Christopher Dingle