Very Good Ravel Let Down By–I’m Not Sure

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

Leonard Slatkin is an excellent conductor, and this first disc in a new Ravel orchestral music cycle for Naxos makes for a particularly satisfying program, mixing the familiar and the less so. For a composer who wrote as little orchestral music as Ravel, that’s no small achievement. Both Pièce en forme de habanera and the Shéhérazade Overture are certainly not overexposed, while the playing order makes for nicely varied continuous listening. Slatkin doesn’t make a wrong move anywhere. His conducting is full of imaginative touches: the jazzy glissandos in Boléro, the delicate harp writing in the Pavane, and the light and lively tempo in the Menuet antique—to list just three examples.

So why am I underwhelmed? I’m not sure if it’s the less than alluring collective sonority of the orchestra, or the engineering, but the performances have a certain dullness that was also characteristic of the recording of the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique with these same forces. Perhaps it’s the acoustic; although textures are admirably transparent, Ravel’s orchestration simply doesn’t glitter on top as it should, particularly in the concluding Feria of the Rapsodie, or at the climax of Boléro. Is some of this Slatkin’s fault? I don’t think so, but again, I can’t be sure. The playing as such is actually pretty good: confident and secure, but somehow hollow at its core. You may feel differently, and on your system this well made program might sound better than it did for me.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Boulez (DG)

    Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Rapsodie espagnole; Pièce en forme de habanera; Shéhérazade Overture; Menuet antique; Boléro

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