Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) La valse - poème choréographique (1920) [14:00] Ma mère l'Oye: Suite (1908-1910)  Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) [6:30] Boléro (1928) [15:18]
Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester/Günther Herbig
rec. Christuskirche Berlin, 1979, ADD BERLIN CLASSICS 0300886BC [52:16]
This very programme appeared during the twilight of the LP on Eterna 827182. It was first issued in 1978. Strangely enough the successors to the Eterna heritage have also just issued it again as an LP at a dizzy price. The Hi-fi elite may well warm to the "180g Virgin Vinyl High Quality pressing … Pure Analogue Audiophile Mastering from the original tapes". I listened to the standard compact disc version and it's not the first time that this has surfaced on CD (review).
It dates from ten years before The Wall came down and is recorded in unglamorous sound which does not reach out to embrace you. Going by names and origins this may not strike you as the ideal Ravel collection. Certainly there are more illustrious and more generous alternatives: Monteux, Pedrotti and Martinon. Monteux still sounds gorgeous in this repertoire. I searched under Herbig's name on the BBC Genome and confirmed my memories of his BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra and BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra concerts in the 1970s and 1980s. They majored on the Austro-German classical mainstream with only very occasional forays further afield.
Herbig certainly has his strengths in Ravel and these are displayed by Berlin Classics in a natural, unfussy and even-tempered perspective. I do not know, but this sounds like a very simple set-up with a small array of microphones. The stereo element is alive but the sound does not leap out at you. La valse instantly strikes you as a believable concert-hall experience heard from the stalls. Orchestral details are not accentuated; not highlighted. They're present but do not beckon the listener. La valse's volcanically wild flourish makes its impact but it's not a hi-fi spectacular. The Ma mère l'Oye suite is also soft impact with glinting details played down at least until you get the volume right up. In Le Jardin féërique the joyously tolled out climax sounds a shade mundane here and the bells have a commonplace, slightly deadened, resonance. They need more openness and helpings of the sort of exultation also found in the similar closing passage of de Falla's El Amor Brujo. The Pavane is again nice but not lifted out of the common rut. Boléro is good with typically controlled playing and some far from faceless solos. The French horn is a far cut above - wonderful playing. Herbig keeps the implacability flowing. It is typical of the integrity of the recording that the growling groans at the end are distanced rather than pulled forward.
This short-playing disc, which exactly echoes its LP forebear, is not at bargain price. The stiff card sleeve has two pockets: one for the disc in its own second sleeve and one for the booklet. The essay is by Dirk Stöve and it's in English and German. The whole thing is very nicely designed using the original LP sleeve and the engineers tape-reel record cards. They positively shout authenticity. A nice move.