Ravel: Gaspard for Orchestra

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This somewhat uneven disc has one important thing going for it: the best performance is also the thing most worth having–specifically, Marius Constant’s marvelous orchestration of Gaspard de la nuit. Like Ravel’s best work, Constant will have you believing that the piano original never existed, and he achieves a genuinely Ravelian sound (the solo contrabassoon that launches Scarbo is a particularly idiomatic touch). Christoph Eschenbach and his players really dig into the piece too, offering the necessary delicacy (in Ondine and Le Gibet) as well as fireworks where required. I loathe recitation of any kind in a musical context, so having the French poems read prior to each movement holds no appeal at all for me, but listeners can either include French actress Carole Bouquet’s contribution or not, as suits individual tastes.

The remainder of the program consists of an aptly bright and gutsy Alborada del gracioso, along with rather ordinary traversals of Minuet antique and the ubiquitous Pavane pour une infante défunte. These last two aren’t exactly geared to highlight interpretive genius in any event, though the live recording before a mostly very quiet audience still projects a bit more ambient noise than some listeners might find comfortable in the Pavane. The same observation holds true in Le tombeau de Couperin, an interpretation that the French would call “correct”, meaning “nothing special”. Although the sonics are essentially good and audibly natural, this delicate work seems a bit lost in an acoustic that better suits the pieces for large orchestra.

The disc concludes with a non-bonus in the form of arguably the worst-ever traversal of the original piano version of Ondine from Gaspard de la nuit, execrably mauled by Tzimon Barto at a rehearsal tempo, with terrible rhythm and insensitivity to dynamics, particularly regarding balance between the hands. Not only is he half a minute slower than Eschenbach’s orchestral version, he’s also a full minute and a half behind such outstanding exponents of the work as Argerich or Michelangeli. But I also don’t want to make too much of this: it’s only 7:42 at the end of a disc with more positive qualities than negative ones, and if you haven’t heard Constant’s orchestration of Gaspard, than you should. It belongs in the standard repertoire, without a doubt.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

MAURICE RAVEL - Gaspard de la Nuit (orch. Constant); Le tombeau de Couperin; Menuet antique; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Alborada del gracioso; Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit (for piano)

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