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Ravel: Orchestral Works Vol 1 / Deneve, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Ravel / Stuttgart Radio Sym Orch / Deneve
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 93305   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RAVEL La Valse. Le Tombeau de Couperin. Alborada del gracioso. Rapsodie espagnole. Bolero Stéphane Denève, cond; SW German RSO Stuttgart HÄNSSLER 93305 (69:34)

Labeled “Maurice Ravel Orchestral Works, Vol. 1,” this new Hänssler Classics release offers an interesting comparison and challenge to the recently released and reviewed Volume 1 of Leonard Slatkin’s Ravel survey for Naxos (see 36:5). What makes it interesting is that, on the one hand you have an American conductor, Slatkin, Read more leading a French ensemble, the Lyon National Orchestra; while on the other hand, you have a French conductor, Stéphane Denève, leading a German ensemble, the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart. Which is more natively French sounding, the French musicians playing under an American conductor, or the German musicians playing under a French conductor?

To be sure, I found things to like about Slatkin’s Ravel, but not enough to give it a resounding endorsement, concluding my review by recommending it as a nicety rather than a necessity. Almost all of Ravel’s most popular orchestral works were, as noted, originally conceived for piano and subsequently orchestrated, either by Ravel himself or by others. If you discount the orchestral music conceived as ballets, or as vocal or choral works, the number of Ravel’s purely orchestral scores can be counted on two fingers of one hand: the two piano concertos.

Three of the works on the present disc—the Alborada del gracioso, Rapsodie espagnole , and Boléro —are duplicated on the above-mentioned Slatkin CD. Boléro was the one number on Slatkin’s album that was not to my liking. It was too slow, beginning at a metronome setting of around 67; Ravel asks for 72. I also faulted Slatkin for not maintaining a steady tempo, as Ravel requested, and for speeding up at the end. Denève gets it right. He maintains a strict tempo throughout, and the difference between his observance of Ravel’s metronome marking and Slakin’s noncompliance results in a difference of over a minute—15:19 vs. 16:22.

Competition for your dollars in this repertoire is fierce. I still enjoy trotting out my LP set every now and then of Ravel’s orchestral works with André Cluytens conducting the Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire Paris, since transferred to a two-disc CD set on EMI, Jean Martinon’s slightly later survey with the Orchestre de Paris, also on EMI, and more recent compilations by Claudio Abbado with the London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez with the Berlin Philharmonic, and Charles Dutoit with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra.

What I find is that among more recent recordings of Ravel’s works it’s the conductor more so than the orchestra that makes the bigger difference. Going back to the earlier versions by Cluytens and Martinon, you do have the sound of the French winds and horns to contend with, but the internationalization of today’s modern orchestras is such that the players are responsive to the conductor’s interpretive vision, and capable of adapting their sound accordingly. Thus, I can say that it’s the German orchestra under Stéphane Denève that sounds more fluent in Ravel’s music than the French orchestra does under Slatkin; and that can only be attributed to Denève, who, in my opinion, exhibits a real flair for the composer’s idiom. Strongly recommended, especially to those who may not already have a surfeit of these works in their collections.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

La valse by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; France 
Venue:  Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 
Length: 12 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Le tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1917; orch. 191; France 
Venue:  Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 
Length: 17 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Miroirs: Alborada del gracioso by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1905; France 
Venue:  Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 
Length: 7 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Rapsodie espagnole by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; France 
Venue:  Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 
Length: 15 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Boléro by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 
Venue:  Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 
Length: 15 Minutes 21 Secs. 

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