RAVEL: La Valse; Ma mere l’Oye; Tzigane; Bolero; Pavane pour une infante defunte – Gordan Nikolic, violin/ Netherlands Phil. Orch. Amsterdam/ Carlo Rizzi – Tacet audio-only Blu-ray

RAVEL: La Valse; Ma mere l’Oye; Tzigane; Bolero; Pavane pour une infante defunte – Gordan Nikolic, violin/ Netherlands Phil. Orch. Amsterdam/ Carlo Rizzi – Tacet Real Surround Sound audio-only Blu-ray (5.1) B 207, 63:10 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The nice thing about Ravel discs is that most of the music is short enough so that every issue feels like a “greatest hits”! La Valse is given a suitably unctuous sound mix, and while I can imagine a little better interpretation in regards to the echt Viennese rubato, the fantastical aspects of the work are portrayed nicely.

Bolero is a heads-up winner, as are almost all recordings done with decent sound and precise orchestras, especially when the total timing is over—or near—sixteen minutes as is this one. The piece has to have time to unfold, as Ravel himself liked, and too often the showpiece-crazy conductors opt for simple bombast. Not here.

There is not much to say about Pavane as the thing tends to play itself as long as the conductor doesn’t try to wreck the atmosphere, and this one is very fine. Tzigane is spiky and gypsy-like, certainly not as hothouse as Lara St. John plays it, or Anne-Sophie Mutter in earlier years, but the feeling is right and the tempos expanded. Mother Goose is another conductor-proof work that seems like a wind-it-up-and-let-it-go sort of piece; that is, until you listen to Tilson-Thomas on Sony from years ago and understand just what a great conductor can do with it. But Rizzi is close, and certainly MTT never had this kind of sound (though his is not bad).

If I had to pick one Ravel high-end audio disc, it would still be Boulez on Sony, duplicating Bolero and La Valse here, the latter being the best on record as far as I am concerned. But high-end Ravel discs are not as common as you might think given their propensity for audio fireworks. Tacet has even released this issue as a SACD separate from this Blu-ray audio disc. [But not together as 2L does, and tho frequently the SACD is slightly better sonically – if you have a good deck – this time it is not cheaper…Ed.] Luxuriant sound fits the composer to a tee, and even though these are not the top tier in recorded interpretations, they are exceedingly find readings that more than carry their own weight in comparison with the legends, making for an easy recommendation.

—Steven Ritter

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