Debussy/Mussorgsky/Ravel Orchestral Works

Author: 
John Steane

Debussy/Mussorgsky/Ravel Orchestral Works

  • (La) Mer
  • Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Boléro

Here are examples of 'The Karajan Effect' at its most positive, and sounding, in these new transfers, fractionally more open, focused and fresh than before, with the billowing bass moderated and the dynamic range extended. Along with Karajan's own imaginative deployment of orchestral colour (to take one example: the extra gong with barely damped striker at the end of Pictures), the Berlin Jesus-Christus Kirche acoustics of these 1964-6 recordings add their own wonderful coloration and atmosphere (dark and cavernous at appropriate moments in Pictures). The 1980s Berlin Philharmonic DG remakes (in their remastered 'Karajan Gold' format) offer something closer to concert-hall reality (a cleaner more neutral sound) but, on the whole, the imaginative daring and the excited discovery of new realms of creative and technical possibility are missing; certainly the 1980s performances are less given to spontaneous ignition.
For those unfamiliar with these 1960s accounts, Bolero is slow and steady (but Karajan risks floating the early solos), and Pictures is broader and grander than Karajan's previous and subsequent recordings (and most others). But how does one do justice to this La mer in a single sentence? Well, you can either be seduced by some of the most sheerly beautiful orchestral sound ever recorded, or appreciate it for its wide-ranging imagery and its properly mobile pacing; but whichever way you look at it, it is one of the great recorded La mers and one of the classics of the gramophone.'

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