Music of RAVEL = Piano Concerto in G; Ma Mere l’Oye Suite; Bolero – Julius Katchen, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/ Istvan Kertesz/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Ma Mere) /London Festival Orchestra/Stanley Black (Bolero) – HDTT HDCD219, 59:32 [avail. in various formats from www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ****:
HDTT assembles diverse recordings 1957-1965 for this Ravel collection, the major entry’s being the 11-13 November 1965 Ravel G Major Concerto with Julius Katchen and Istvan Kertesz and the ever-responsive London Symphony Orchestra. Katchen takes the first movement Allegramente a mite slower than some, and that adds a majesty to the jazzy figures not always apparent. The close miking (from a London ¼-track tape) captures the wonderfully raucous interplay between LSO woodwinds, harp, and piano, the trills of which quite shimmer in magical space. Katchen (1926-1969) possessed a natural flair for virtuosic fancy, and his sense of phrase remained immaculate. Kertesz (1929-1973) for his part delivers a sparkling orchestral patina, as lusciously exciting as it is accurate. The Adagio assai receives as broadly poetically lilting a performance as we are likely to hear.
The flute entry over the piano trill and pulsed ostinato proves seamless and inspired. The layered addition of woodwinds to the mix, the melodic stretti, contribute to an almost mystical effect in languorous colors in an unbroken, fluent line. A mixture of the Cotton Club, Gershwin, and Les Six, the last movement Presto scampers in dervish motions in irreverent sonata-form, with all sorts of militant and bluesy colors in collision. Katchen pulls out the stops, and Kertesz seems no less inflamed in his part. Listen to that bassoon! The strings and their pizzicati threaten to whirl off into some ET orbit, the horns biting and the piano careening in its own Marx Brothers universe, but it all concludes on a decisive thumping right note.
Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969), the eternal master of Gallic repertory, leads a Mother Goose Suite (1912) from 9 November 1957. The distinct warm tones of the Suisse Romande strings–especially the violas and basses–captivate us at once, the story line a composite of Sleeping Beauty and her various dreams. The Suisse Romande battery–which includes triangle, glockenspiel, tam-tam, xylophone, cymbals, and bass drum–asserts itself colorfully but not ostentatiously. The stately Pavane casts an enchantment that pervades the entire suite of dances. From Petit Poucet onward, a note of resignation–of Paradise Lost–insinuates itself into the emotional fabric, a farewell to innocence that might have a poetic correspondence in Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill.” The dazzling hues of the Laideronette, Imperatrice des Pagodes–with its diaphanous realization of pentatonic scales–have beguiled me ever since my first impressions of this subtle score from Serge Koussevitzky’s BSO recording. Ansermet imparts an aerial sensibility that quite lifts the music high above its Eastern pagodas. Beauty and the Beast engage in alternately light and introspective musings, the contrabassoon’s dipping into some low sighs while the clarinet and strings soar into possibilities of transformation. At last, the most exquisite adieu to childhood from The Fairy Garden. Slow, leisurely, but swelling with ineluctable dignity, the music here celebrates that most elusive quality of Original Innocence.
Stanley Black (nee Solomon Schwartz, 1913-2002) recorded Bolero for London Records in September 1964. A composer and master of several musical idioms–including scoring cinema soundtracks–Black had a fine ear for orchestral nuance, and musicians enjoyed playing for him. Bolero well suits his exacting rhythmic temperament, since the piece remains–as the composer well expressed it–“orchestral tissue without music.” The snare drum never leaves our consciousness, and the diverse woodwinds, strings, harp, and brass entries mount in an eventual deafening crescendo splendid for those audiophiles who like their Bolero a perfect 10.
— Gary Lemco
An impressive sweeping look at French piano music through the hands of Marguerite Long