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Jonathan Woolf
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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924) [10:05]
Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899 orch. 1911) [6:02]
Le tombeau de Couperin (1914-17 orch. 1920) [16:43]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Petite Suite (1899 orch. Henri Büsser 1907) [13:14]
Danse sacrée et danse profane (1904) [9:15]
Pour le piano: Sarabande (1894, orch. Ravel, 1923) [4:19]
Tarantelle styrienne: Danse (1891, orch. Ravel, 1923) [5:33]
Emmanuel Ceysson (harp)
Orchestre de chambre de Paris/Thomas Zehetmair (violin and conductor)
rec. July 2012, Salle 400, Le Centquatre, Paris
NAÏVE V5345 [65:10]

You’re in for a slight shock at the start of this intriguingly programmed disc. Thomas Zehetmair really digs hard in to the string in his performance of Tzigane, bringing great immediacy and visceral tensile strength to bear. In aligning it so overtly and so dramatically to the more fervid elements of Hungarian gypsy playing he tends to elide those elements of classical stylisation that inhabit the piece. I can’t imagine that Jelly d’Aranyi, its first performer and Ravel’s inspiration – at least to judge by her surviving records – ever played it with this level of unrelieved intensity. His apt portamenti and changes of tone colour are both unremitting and challenging. It’s a high octane, sometimes exhausting listen, but for those sated with suave performances of this work, its earthy no-holds-barred approach will make a powerful appeal.
Pavane pour une infante défunte is clearly textured, not unsympathetically delineated but certainly not gauzy or over-sensual. Horn, wind and harp are notable contributors toward the success of the performance. This quality of clarity and slight interpretative aloofness is present in Zehetmair’s Le tombeau de Couperin where one finds that he is keen to make his points deftly, but quite quickly. He is determined that his Ravel will not wallow and although the internal balancing is good there are times throughout the course of the disc when the recorded balance is too close, resulting in a slight over-inflation of sound. Despite this, orchestral felicities abound in this performance: the oboe in the Menuet for example.
The second part of the disc is given over to Debussy, largely hyphenated. Henri Büsser’s 1907 orchestration of the Petite Suite is very well-known and to it Zehetmair and his forces bring fine qualities. That said, once again, there’s a lofty inflation of sound from time to time; En bateau sounds a bit unwieldy and less sensitive than it might. There are no such interpretative problems in Emmanuel Ceysson’s lovely performance of Danse sacrée et danse profane. It was Ravel who, in 1923, orchestrated the two, small final pieces, Sarabande and Danse and they make for an attractive envoi.
So this disc is not without some expressive and recording quibbles. Nevertheless it has a personal stamp and a strong viewpoint and much is rewarding.
Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Albert Lam