French Harp Works
Ravel, like Chopin and Brahms—or for that matter Beethoven, who more than anyone opened music up to the romantic spirit that dominated the nineteenth century—isn't easily classified, for all the tenderness and passion of his music.
And where does that get us, with regard to the present issue in which the first work is his Introduction and Allegro? Well, perhaps to the conclusion that even this rapturously beautiful piece can be played legitimately in a fairly straightforward way, without especially refined tonal and rhythmic nuances and subtleties. Nevertheless, I have at this point to say that I find this a cool performance. It is fluent and attractive, and Vanessa McKeand is sure and by no means unstylish, but (although it's well recorded too) I simply fail to find the sheer magic that the work usually conjures up.
This is strange; because the same player together with different colleagues creates the right sense of hushed, hieratic mystery at the start of Debussy's Danse sacree: the companion Danse profane (still lucid in its spiritual purity) is good too and I enjoyed this Debussy work far more than the Ravel. Here indeed McKeand is much more impressive and Edmon Colomer (who comes from Spain) accompanies sympathetically with the English Chamber Orchestra. The harpist and the Allegri Quartet are equally idiomatic in Caplet's Conte fantastique based on Poe's sinister story The Masque of the Red Death, which is a truly spine-tingling piece: it's some time since I heard it and I'd forgotten how effective it was and indeed how imaginative a composer was Caplet himself. (Incidentally, no less a musician than Debussy enlisted his help as an orchestrator when composing his Martyre de Saint Sebastien, of which Caplet conducted the first performance.) There ought to be more of his work in the catalogue, but this will do very well to be going on with. I've left little space to do more than praise the performances of the Pierne and pieces Saint-Saens pieces, which are both substantial (each is longer than the Ravel Introduction and Allegro) and well worth having too; it must be coincidence that the Pierne delightfully looks forward to the exquisite song with harp obbligato in Britten's Nocturne. Congratulations to Virgin Classics on an enterprising and well-realized issue—though I still wish that the Ravel piece for which many will buy it were a little more magical.'