Maurice Ravel: Top 20 Recordings

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

From Boléro to Daphnis et Chloé, here are Maurice Ravel's greatest works in outstanding recordings from John Wilson, Martha Argerich, François-Xavier Roth, Quatuor Ebène and more


By its very nature, no Top 20 list could hope to include all of the wonderful recordings of Ravel's music that we have available to us today. But here is a selection of 20 outstanding recordings that are sure to offer many hours of listening pleasure. There is a mix of classic recordings (Crespin's Shéhérazade from 1963, Boulez's 1974 Boléro) and very recent releases (Abduraimov's Gaspard de la nuit, for example) so there should be something new and interesting to discover for even long-time Ravel devotees.

john wilson

Orchestral Works

Ma Mère L’oye, Boléro, Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales, Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte, Alborada Del Gracioso & La Valse

Sinfonia of London / John Wilson (Chandos)

‘This Boléro is a cat-walk of elegance and attitude, as each solo and later combo glides into the limelight. You’d expect a jazz band-like cool and seductiveness to characterise the playing but what really shines here is the illumination of so many colouristic permutations, sounding for all the world as if Ravel had just in this moment heard them.’ (Edward Seckerson, March 2022)

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L'Heure espagnole

L'heure Espagnole & Boléro

Isabelle Druet (Concepción), Julien Behr (Gonzalve), Loïc Félix (Torquemada), Thomas Dolié (Ramiro), Jean Teitgen (Don Iñigo Gomez), Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi)

L’heure espagnole is the main work on the latest disc in François-Xavier Roth’s Ravel series with Les Siècles for Harmonia Mundi. As in previous releases, the orchestral playing is exquisite, the strings silky, woodwinds perfumed, the trumpets (1930s Selmers) sweetly tangy, the trombones suggestively louche. Roth’s pacing is steady – three or four minutes slower than Lorin Maazel or Swiss precisionist Ernest Ansermet – but it flows.(Mark Pullinger, August 2023)

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New York PO / Pierre Boulez (Sony Classical)

Boulez’s forensic 1974 performance delves deeper than any other into Ravel’s sleight-of-orchestral-hand and layerings of harmony – a probing shaft of light into Boléro’s inventive, one-off weirdnesses. (The Top Choice in Philip Clark's Gramophone Collection article, Awards issue 2010)

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String Quartet in F major

Quatuor Ebène (Erato)

There’s a fluidity to the Ebène’s playing of both works that suits the music’s character, a mood of wistfulness too that the Ravel especially benefits from. This improvisatory approach is hardly surprising from an ensemble that is also celebrated for its jazz performances.(Rob Cowan, December 2008)

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Piano Concertos

Krystian Zimerman pf Cleveland Orchestra / Pierre Boulez (DG)

‘Expectations: exceptional clarity, consummate rhythmic control, spacious phrasing, bright recorded sound, fire from the soloist, ice from the conductor. Reality: all of those things, plus the authentic Ravelian tang of colours perfectly mixed, harmonies perfectly weighted and lines perfectly balanced. Zimerman’s pianism is self-recommending.’ (David Fanning, February 1999)

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Concertos pour piano & Mélodies

Cédric Tiberghien pf Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi)

‘Throughout, Tiberghien is very much the glue holding the piece together and the cumulative effect is irresistible... Beautifully recorded, this is headily seductive and has Award-winner written all over it. But don’t take my word for it – go and listen to it post-haste.’ (Harriet Smith, July 2022)

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Piano Concerto

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli pf Philharmonia Orchestra / Ettore Gracis (Warner Classics)

No collection should be without this version of the Ravel G major coupled, famously, with (the arguably even better performance of) Rachmaninov’s G minor concerto. The sound is remarkably fine in its present transfer.(Gramophone Collection – Historic Choice, Jeremy Nicholas, September 2009)

Complete solo piano music

Bertrand Chamayou pf (Erato)

Superlative Ravel seems almost in abundance these days – think Bavouzet, Thibaudet, Queffélec or Lortie. But for my ears, Chamayou brings everything home in a way that is deeply personal, vivid, unique. No one who loves French music or exquisite piano-playing will want to miss this.(Patrick Rucker, March 2016)

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Complete solo piano music

Steven Osborne pf (Hyperion)

Miroirs is another striking success, where a trickster’s ribaldry and high jinks explode into violence, and in La valse (suitably arranged and “orchestrated”), Osborne spins his dancers towards a visceral and devastating oblivion.’ (Bryce Morrison, April 2011)

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Complete solo piano music

Jean-Yves Thibaudet pf (Decca)

‘This set of Ravel's complete piano music is an imaginative and pianistic tour de force sumptuously presented and recorded. Jean-Yves Thibaudet possesses a flashing wit and dexterity yet never trespasses beyond received poetic tact or wisdom; a secret surely shared by only the finest Ravelians.’ (Bryce Morrison, November 1992)

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Gaspard de la nuit

Beatrice Rana pf (Harmonia Mundi)

Gaspard de la nuit starts from out of nowhere with a quicksilver, shimmering ‘Ondine’, then settles into a rock steady, multi-level ‘Le gibet’. ‘Scarbo’ ranges from gossamer filigree and utterly unsplintered rapid chord playing to whiplash climaxes that cut to the quick yet retain resonance and definition. In short, Béatrice Rana possesses an old soul that belies her 20 years, and more than a touch of genius.(Jed Distler, February 2014)

Gaspard de la nuit

Martha Argerich pf (Warner Classics)

In expression it is polarised towards demonic flair and abandon, in a way scarcely imaginable under studio conditions. ‘Ondine’ flickers ravishingly and improvisatorily, but the later stages feel more like white-water rafting than the contemplation of a seductive water-nymph, and the big climax at 3'18'' won’t stand close scrutiny. On the other hand ‘Le gibet’ is as effective in its restraint as in its hallucinatory colourings – the passage from 2'23'' is truly ‘pp sans expression’. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of horripilating malevolence in ‘Scarbo’; the final stages have to be heard to be believed.(David Fanning, February 2001)

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Gaspard de la nuit

Behzod Abduraimov pf (Alpha)

‘Since pianophiles know the great recorded Gaspards like the back of their hands, what can one possibly add to the legacy of Walter Gieseking’s 78s, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s 1959 BBC traversal, Robert Casadesus, Martha Argerich, Ivo Pogorelich, Beatrice Rana, Abbey Simon, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Herbert Schuch, Steven Osborne and so on, ad infinitum? However, I’ve always maintained that artistic excellence is its own justification, and Abduraimov’s Gaspard easily takes a place at the table among the reference versions.’ (Jed Distler, February 2024)

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Ma Mère l'Oye

Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis (Hyperion)

In Ma Mère l’Oye we’re transported to Ravel’s world of wonder in the most miraculous way. There’s a crystalline beauty to much of Lewis and Osborne’s quiet playing and a Classicism – such as in the Pavane – that avoids the overt emoting that can mar some performances.(Harriet Smith, April 2021)

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Complete music for violin & piano

Alina Ibragimova vn Cédric Tiberghien pf


‘The details are wonderfully idiomatic, yet the playing is initially so refined that when the music later breaks out of its shell, the contrast is extraordinary. It’s like a strange, distorted dream of a jazz performance.’ (Duncan Druce, Awards issue 2011)

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Daphnis et Chloé

Les Siècles & Ensemble Aedes / François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi)

François-Xavier Roth teases a much more expansive opening than Monteux, a slow burn leading to an ecstatic first choral entry. He is often more languorous, the performance nearly four minutes slower than the Decca account. However, Roth attacks the “Danse guerrière” with more vim and also whips up a faster bacchanalian finale. With fine choral contributions from the Ensemble Aedes, this new recording is highly recommended.(Mark Pullinger, May 2017)

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Daphnis et Chloé

Sinfonia of London Chorus, Sinfonia of London / John Wilson (Chandos)

Not the least of the glories of the present set is the sound per se. In an age when studio recording is no longer de rigueur it’s quite something to find producer Brian Pidgeon and sound engineer Ralph Couzens returning again and again to St Augustine’s, Kilburn, successfully balancing immediacy and bloom. The team also had to interpret Ravel’s essentially unworkable instructions regarding the placement of the chorus. No coupling but for my money this is the finest recorded Daphnis for a generation.(David Gutman, November 2023)

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Cantates Pour Le Prix de Rome

Véronique Gens, Vannina Santoni, Sophie Koch, Janina Baechle, Julien Behr, Michael Spyres, Jacques Imbrailo; Choeur et Orchestre National des Pays de La Loire / Pascal Rophé (BIS Records)

‘What a delicious surprise this has turned out to be. I’ll wager only a tiny minority of true Ravel aficionados will know even one or two of any of these early opuses – all of them written expressly for the prestigious Prix de Rome, which, for reasons best known to successive juries, Ravel never won. That might speak to his rebellious spirit, his thirst for experimentation or simply his desire to transcend technical know-how and embrace the emergence of his true spirit.’ (Edward Seckerson, August 2022)

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Régine Crespin; Suisse Romande Orchestra / Ernest Ansermet (Decca)

Sultry, languorous yet sung with a richness of tone, this is classic version of this ravishing work, coupled here with Berlioz's Les nuits d'été. Ansermet accompanies exquisitely.


Marianne Crebassa mez Fazıl Say pf Bernhard Krabatsch fl (Erato)

‘The combination of intelligence, immediacy and subtlety is utterly compelling and marks ‘Secrets’ out as one of the finest French song recitals of recent years. I cannot recommend it too highly.’ (Tim Ashley, December 2017)

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