Ravel: Piano concertos, etc./Haas/Paray

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Here’s a disc that never should have gone out of print. Monique Haas was a famous name in the 1950s and ’60s, and the booklet notes offer a delightful picture of the provincial musical backwater that was Germany when it came to the music of its French neighbor. In the days before worldwide distribution, a recording of these works on the Yellow Label meant something special, and so are the performances. Haas plays each concerto without a shred of sentimentality, brightly and with virtuosity to burn. She rips through the first movement of the G major concerto with a will, and while she could relax a bit more on her initial entrance (and its recapitulation), her straight-ahead approach is still preferable to the sticky molto rubato of some of her colleagues. The slow movement is all the more moving for being played too simply, and her articulation in the whirlwind finale, at a perfect tempo, offers a veritable clinic on how the music ought to go.

If anything, the Left Hand Concerto is even finer, with a strongly profiled solo and Paul Paray providing fantastically detailed and idiomatic accompaniments. Listen to the interplay between piano, harp, and the flute-led woodwinds in the “second subject” of the central march episode and you will immediately understand what separates the men from the boys in this piece. Haas offers a marvelously fluid and urgent final cadenza on the way to a smashing conclusion, and in both concertos the CD’s remastered sound is excellent: a touch cloudy in tuttis, rich, full, and really well-balanced. I can’t say that this is better than Francois/Cluytens (EMI), which on balance probably remains the finest all-around recommendation. It has just that much more poetry and mirth in the G major concerto, but this is really pretty marvelous. The two solo pieces (good 1956 mono) have the same virtues, with the Valses nobles et sentimentales particularly irresistible in its clarity and rhythmic energy. A pleasure from first note to last.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Francois/Cluytens (EMI)

MAURICE RAVEL - Piano Concerto in G; Concerto for the Left Hand; Sonatine; Valses nobles et sentimentales


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