Based on my first experience with the Belgian label, Talent – the excellent Philippe Herreweghe Beethoven Symphonies 4 and 7 disc (also reviewed here recently) – I had really high hopes for this collection of Ravel orchestrations. An entertaining selection of orchestral bonbons, it takes the focus away from Ravel’s orchestrations of his own compositions and places it on pieces (aside from Mussorgsky’s Pictures) that are less often heard in the concert hall. Musically, the results are genuinely enjoyable, and while the recording isn’t quite in the same league sonically as the Beethoven Sym. 3 & 8 with Jarvi on Song/BMG (recorded in the recently restored and acoustically superb Antwerp theater DeRoma), the surround sound presentation offers a fairly good representation of the recorded acoustic. And although it’s impossible to tell from the liner notes which of the many concert halls the Royal Flemish Philharmonic calls home this recording took place in – take my advice, Talent, and schedule more sessions in DeRoma’s magical acoustic!
The centerpiece here is Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, and conductor Danielle Callegari coaxes a first-rate performance from the orchestra. While not a lights-out lease buster (you won’t find anything like the Telarc bass drum here), the playing is superb, and never mannered. The Flemish forces offer performances that are very much in keeping with Ravel’s predominantly French oeuvre. While they may not offer the last word in a work (Pictures) that generally is given a more idiomatic Russian twist, the playing is beautiful throughout the balance of the disc, especially in the overtly French pieces by Debussy and Chabrier. Recommended.
– Tom Gibbs