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Ravel: Ma Mère L'oye, Rhapsodie Espagnole / Haitink


Release Date: 07/14/1998 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 454452   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Ravel performances of great conviction and composure - a class act.

Haitink will be 70 next year, and, like Boulez before him, he now returns with the wisdom of experience to Ravel pieces he recorded two-and-a-half decades ago. There were abundant reasons for preferring Pierre Boulez’s DG remakes to the CBS originals... But are there comparable reasons for preferring Haitink’s new recordings to the old? The answer is a slightly more qualified ‘yes’. Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw and Boston orchestras have French music-making in their lineage, the ‘French Connection’ in Boston’s players and conductors stemming back to around Monteux’s reign immediately after the First World War, and its Ravel familiar
Read more from recordings with Munch and Ozawa. Even today it is possible – if only just – to detect ‘filtered’ French sounds and styles in Boston’s playing (for example, a slight bias towards the winds, with a relatively reedy oboe, selective vibrato from trumpets and trombones, and violins more than usual bowing lightly and nearer the fingerboard), characteristics that lend a fresh clarity and bright edge to the sound.

Haitink’s regular Philips producer and balance engineer, Volker Straus, reproduces this in, by today’s standards, quite a close balance, but one that captures enough of Boston Symphony Hall’s very open acoustic. And, with the exception of one brief but familiar danger spot near the end of the Rapsodie espagnole (in the “Feria” from two bars before fig. 26; track 4 from 5'26''), where something needs to be done to help the dancing woodwind lines (help is provided by Monteux, Ansermet, Reiner and especially Dutoit), focus for the detail of Ravel’s orchestra is comprehensive and naturally achieved. That said, there isn’t quite the spatial dimension and ambient warmth of Haitink’s previous Concertgebouw recordings (where one has to tolerate a degree of analogue tape hiss) or the Boulez Berlin recordings on DG. Also, some listeners may be alarmed by the vivid presence for both Boston’s principal flute – generously phrased playing requiring ‘generous’ intakes of breath – and the very high incidence of platform noise (sample track 10 of Ma mere l’oye from 4'32'').

As to Haitink’s own contribution, the differences are small, but taken as a whole, justify the venture. Here or there you will find a rubato more easefully achieved, or a passage pointed or shaded with more imagination or emotion (the accentuation of the woodwind at the start of the “Danse de rouet” from Ma mere l’oye and the rapt string playing at the start of its “Le jardin feerique”); and here or there, a marginally faster or slower tempo, mainly to the music’s benefit. The new La valse avoids most of the stretchings and slowings, except the marked ones, of the old, its sights more firmly set on the final climax. And the tempo is more successfully maintained in Bolero – definitely ‘a class act’ with a veiled, silky blend of muted trumpet and flute tone from 4'13'' and wonderfully suave but streetwise solos from the saxophones and trombone.

In short, Munch, Reiner and Dutoit might live a little more dangerously, Boulez might sometimes ‘hear’ the music in more interesting ways, Monteux might evoke more period charm. But for a modern collection, these new discs deserve to be taken very seriously. Haitink’s new-look Ravel is central. And it is Ravel of great conviction and composure.

-- John Steane, Gramophone [8/1998, from a review of Philips 454452 and Philips 456569]
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Works on This Recording

1. Rapsodie espagnole by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; France 
2. Menuet antique by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1895; France 
Notes: Orchestrated: Maurice Ravel (1929) 
3. Ma mère l'oye by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Notes: Orchestrated: Maurice Ravel (1911)
Composition written: France (1908 - 1910). 
4. La valse by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; France 

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