RAVEL: Orchestral Works Vol. 1 = Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Rapsodie espagnole (4 mov’ts); Piéce en forme de habanera; Shéhérazade (Ouverture de féerie); Menuel antique; Boléro – Orch. Nat. de Lyon/ Leonard Slatkin – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray with DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 96K/24-bit PCM Stereo NBD0030, 67:38 *****:
This month’s Naxos entry in the “Pure Audio” Blu-ray stakes was—like most of the others—originally a standard Naxos CD. What a difference this gorgeous clarity and detail in the PCM stereo track makes in the program! I can’t really include a positive reaction to the hi-res surround program from DTS, because the level on the surround channels is so low as to be almost inaudible, even when standing in front of the speakers, and I didn’t want to change the level settings just for this one (which are quite a chore with my Integra preamp). However, the center channel did add a great deal to the frontal signal, and of course was missing with the PCM stereo.
Renowned conductor Leonard Slatkin has been the new Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon for this season, after completing his 12th and final season as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. He’s also Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic in the UK.
Ravel frequently began with piano pieces which he later orchestrated. That’s true of the opening Alborada del gracioso, the Pavane for a Dead Princess, and the Menuet antique. The orchestral colors of the first are beautifully realized by Slatkin and his forces, and well-preserved in either hi-res format. The “fairy overture” Shéhérazade was the composer’s first orchestral work and was originally going to introduce an opera on a theme of The Thousand and One Nights, which never occurred. The Spanish rhythms of the four-movement Rapsodie espagnole are especially strong and put this right in the same area as the major works of a Spanish nature by other French composers. Jennifer Gilbert’s violin is clearly dead center on the Piece in the Form of a Habanera, whether using the PCM stereo or the DTS-HD 5.1 options. (I can’t comment on the Boléro, because frankly I couldn’t face hearing that work yet again, no matter how good the fidelity.)
In 1974 there was a Vox/Turnabout LP set by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra of the complete Ravel works for orchestra. It was reissued as a 96/24 “DAD” by Classic Records in 1998 on two audio-only DVDs. Interestingly, it did not include either the Piece en forme de habanera or the Sheherazade on this Naxos Blu-ray. The Minnesotans really drag the Pavane for a Dead Princess; Slatkin gets it right. It was excellent in its day, but clearly the Naxos Blu-ray leaves it in the mist. The detail and clarity of every note and a feeling for the acoustic environment in which the recording was made puts it way ahead of the Skrowaczewski recordings. Since the Naxos release is labeled 1 I presume there will be a 2 that will wrap up all of Ravel’s orchestral music.
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.