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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma Mère l'Oye - complete ballet (1908-11) [28:01]
Une barque sur l'océan (1906) [7:59]
Alborada del gracioso (1918) [7:30]
Rapsodie Espagnole (1908) [16:39]
Boléro (1928) [14:57]
Berlin Philharmonic/Pierre Boulez
rec. March 1993, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 439 859-2 [75:33]

This disc opens with Ma Mère l'Oye; the work I will go to first in any Ravel listening session; possibly second to the Pavane. This 75-minute DG disc is now very welcomely given fresh life by Presto Classical. It was first issued in 1994 (4D Audio). This work sets the seal on my decisions whether or not to attend a live concert. The eight-movement complete ballet version of Ma Mère l'Oye is, like the other works here, heard in a grand acoustic delivering atmospheric delicacy. This signifies strongly in a work of fragile delicacy and uproarious eruptive coups. There are so many peaks to note: the sallow murmuring contrabassoon in ‘Petit Poucet’ and the ‘shouted’ groan at 4:20 and the flute, light as down, in ‘Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête’. Very strangely, this work recalls a sort of gutsier version of Granville Bantock’s Pierrot of the Minute. Try ‘Le jardin Féerique’, a French sort of equivalent of the ‘Las campanas del amanecer’ (The Bells of Dawn) from de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. Then there’s the just-before-dawn almost silence of the start of Rapsodie Espagnole. It’s all superbly brought off, whether in those granitic outbursts or in the many solo voices that reach out. This is not cold or antiseptic playing but is shaped with affection and exultation. These qualities also extend to Boléro which responds well to the grand acoustic, delivering rippling muscularity at forte or above. There’s also an atmospheric Une barque sur l'océan where the vessel breasts the swell and the waves. A short sketch, it is a pass in the direction of Debussy’s La Mer. The more familiar Alborada del gracioso is a nice Hispanic companion to Rapsodie Espagnole.

Boulez has plenty of Ravel in multiple versions in his discography. They are represented in his Sony and DG collectors boxes but not the Erato one. There is so much to celebrate with this conductor and often in (to me) surprising vicinities. For example, he is responsible for a very strong Bruckner 8 (DG) and a magically telling La Péri (Sony) alongside other more obvious Boulez territory.

This well-tracked recording is an unbounded pleasure with plenty of impact, gorgeous clarity and, yes, triumphant delight. I adore Monteux’s Ravel and for that matter Pedrotti’s and Previn’s but Boulez, recorded some years later than these conductors, allures and captivates. The documentation is very well done by Robert Orledge.

Rob Barnett

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