Ravel Orchestral Works

Author: 
Lionel Salter

Ravel Orchestral Works

  • Ma Mère l'oye, 'Mother Goose'
  • Pavane pour une infante défunte
  • (Le) Tombeau de Couperin
  • (8) Valses nobles et sentimentales

I find it impossible to listen to any of these orchestral works by Ravel—or indeed any others of his—without each time being transported anew by the sheer magic of his scoring. It always demands it's true, virtuoso playing of the utmost refinement—not simply the mechanical virtuosity of some crack orchestras who view whatever is put before them in much the same light, but playing imbued with commitment and a true feeling for style—and with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra those prerequisites are handsomely met. It has already amply demonstrated under Charles Dutoit its particular aptitude for the French repertoire, and anyone fortunate enough to have heard it on its recent European tour must have been struck by the whole-hearted involvement shown by every single one of its players.
The result, once again, is a collection of performances—more than 66 minutes of music, without loss of the overall admirable quality—which cannot but give delight. For virtuosity pure and simple there is the exacting Tombeau de Couperin: notice, besides the adroit technique of the oboist Theodore Baskin, the lightness and delicacy of the Forlane (taken on the fast side) and the buoyancy and fluency of the Rigaudon. For sensitivity of nuance, the nostalgic finale of the Valses nobles et sentimentales stays in the mind—as does the grave elegance of the elegiac Pavane, which is given with exactly the right degree of restraint. But perhaps Ravel's most inspired orchestration is in Ma mere l'oye—not just the orchestral version of the original piano duets, brilliant as that is, but also the enchanting Prelude, the extra first scene and the ingeniously devised interludes which he subsequently added to form the ballet. I did wonder whether Dutoit was not separating the phrases overmuch in ''Le jardin feerique''; and after the cool innocence of Beauty in the garden and the strings' passionate intensity in the lead-up to the combination of her theme with that of the Beast, I was momentarily disturbed by a tiny flaw at the 'transformation', when the solo violin too conspicuously crosses strings, splitting his lower A. But such a detail obviously isn't going to deter anyone from another winner from Montreal.'

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