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Ravel: Bolero, La Valse, Pour Une Infante Défunte / Herbig, Berlin SO

Ravel / Bso / Herbig
Release Date: 07/08/2008 
Label:  Berlin Classics   Catalog #: 1438  
Composer:  Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Excellent performances.

Günther Herbig, now in his late seventies, made his reputation in the old East German state, though he was actually born in Czechoslovakia. He became known in the west in the early 1980s, a period when he was Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic), and many Mancunians will recall a string of magnificent performances from that period. He is best-known for his interpretations of the Austro-German classics, but is in fact a conductor with wide sympathies. So it comes as little surprise that this disc contains stylish, meticulous performances of these French ‘lollipops’.

I’ll return to the music in a moment; but these Berlin
Read more Classics ‘Schätze der Klassik’ (probably best rendered as ‘Best-Loved Classics’) were new to me, so I was intrigued by the presentation. The discs come in a pretty case of the ‘booklet’ type, with a classy gold seal on the front cover. But inside, there is - nothing! – apart of course from the disc itself. No information, no notes on the music, nothing about the performers.

No surprise, then to find no details of recording dates and venues either; all we have is a date of original publication given as 1979. This is interesting, as it was the point when Herbig began to become better-known in the West. The orchestra here however is the Berlin Symphony, which was based in East Berlin, and was thus in a sense the communist counterpart of the Berlin Philharmonic, based in West Berlin. It was a fine orchestra, and still exists today, though now named the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, after the hall which is its home.

These then are excellent performances. ‘La Valse’ gets a thoroughly idiomatic treatment, with the slightly exaggerated rubato (flexibility of tempo) that emphasises the element of parody. Some orchestral details are not as prominent as they might be – the trombone scales at track 1 (2:55) are weak enough to make me suspect the players of dozing! – but the final climax is convincingly seismic, and the work’s character is well projected.

The same is true of the Mother Goose Suite that follows. The playing draws out sensitively Ravel’s delicate sensuality. The recording is mostly good, allowing details such as the bird-cries in ‘Petit Poucet’ (Tom Thumb), or the contra bassoon in ‘La Belle et la Bête’ (Beauty and the Beast) to register naturally, without ‘spotlighting’. The only major disappointment for me was the string sound in the ineffable final movement, ‘Le Jardin Féerique’. This calls for an intense, hushed pianissimo at the outset, but the Berlin strings – and the recording engineers – can find only a rather muddy, unattractive tone colour.

Oh and that Boléro? It’s fine - said through gritted teeth. In fact let’s be honest, it’s a good performance of a piece I want to listen to about once every five years or so. No more.

Gwyn Parry-Jones, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
La valse by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; France 
2.
Ma mère l'oye: Suite by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908-1910; France 
3.
Pavane pour une infante défunte by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; France 
4.
Boléro by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 

Sound Samples

La valse (version for orchestra)
Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose): I. Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty (Pavane de la belle au bois dormant)
Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose): II. Hop o' my Thumb (Petit poucet)
Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose): III. Little Ugly, Empress of the Pagodas (Laideronnette, imperatrice des pagodes)
Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose): IV. The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast (Les entretiens de la belle et de la bete)
Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose): V. The Fairy Garden (Le jardin feerique)
Pavane pour une infante defunte (version for orchestra)
Bolero

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