RAVEL: “Orchestal Works” = Le Tombeau de Couperin; Menuet antique; Ma mère l’oye; Valses nobles et sentimentale; Une barque sur l’océan – BSO /Seiji Ozawa – PentaTone

MAURICE RAVEL: “Orchestal Works” = Le Tombeau de Couperin; Menuet antique; Ma mère l’oye; Valses nobles et sentimentale; Une barque sur l’océan – Boston Sym. Orch./Seiji Ozawa – PentaTone multichannel (4.0 RQR Series) SACD PTC 5186 204, 76:22 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/12/15) ****:

I now have a few of these amazing and worthwhile SACD re-releases from Pentatone and I think they are all exceptionally well-made and sound great. In fact, it was the Boston Symphony recording of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust that caused me to take interest. My initial comments in my review of that recording and the project as a whole still hold true.

Seiji Ozawa had a career-long love of French music; Ravel, in particular. The BSO under his leadership made many truly fine recordings of the big Ravel masterworks and also some Berlioz, Debussy and so forth. The collection here is representative of Ravel’s best known forays into classical and Baroque forms.

Of the works here it is arguable that Le tombeau de Couperin, a reflection on some friends lost in the first World War through the ‘eyes’ of Couperin’s harpsichord music, is the best known piece here. I think that Ravel’s “Mother GooseSuite (La mère l’oye) is also an oft-played and wonderful piece of music that also serves as a prime example of Ravel’s fascination with children’s fairy tales and any forms whose primary purpose was to pay homage while also entertaining. Hence, this wonderful and idiomatic work as well as the others here.

It is probable that Une barque sur l’océan (“A boat on the ocean”) is the least well-known here. It is a short, peaceful little orchestration of one piece from Ravel’s collection of piano works, Miroirs, that is not heard nearly as often as Le tombeau, “Mother Goose” or the waltzes.

I have read reviews of the Pentatone series and the audio engineering behind it that are not particularly enthused by the presence and dynamic range of this disc in particular and the series as a whole. I do think that there are spots where the pianissimo gets nearly lost and a couple of big ‘crashes’ in the Valses could be a bit more (I did not notice this as much in the Damnation of Faust remaster)

One thing that most listeners I hope would agree upon. That is that the Boston Symphony during Ozawa’s incredible long tenure was one of the best orchestras in the country and that – at that time – it may have been at its best, filled with its best players one could hear on recordings, in the recent history of that orchestra. Additionally, the love and expertise that Ozawa and his players had for Ravel was very clear.

I’ll tell you what I would like Pentatone to do: please release their complete Daphnis and Chloe, originally on DGG. I still have the original vinyl and I had the major good fortune to hear them perform it live many years ago so…. Can’t wait!

—Daniel Coombs

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