"We should always remember that sensitiveness and emotion constitute the real content of a work of art."
Boléro, La Valse, etc
(Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Lorin Maazel, conductor)
Lorin Maazel is probably the weirdest conductor currently active. Orchestras supposedly love him on account of his superb baton technique, and it's obvious in his recordings that his control over an orchestra is absolute. It's what he does with that control that's often so strange, turning in interpretations that range from thrilling to simply willful and bizarre. His Ravel is typically micro-managed--you can hear every twist and turn of the baton, but it also works well, in this music at least. The Vienna Philharmonic follows him every step of the way, and the performances of both Boléro and La Valse, in particular, are astounding. Different, then, but in the best sense. (review by David Hurwitz)
Daphnis et Chloe Complete
(Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor)
Ravel's magnificent "choreographic symphony" was the musical preserve of two great French conductors, Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. Munch recorded the work twice for RCA, and this is the earlier of his two versions. Neither is better than the other. To the composer's customary brilliance of sound, Munch added an almost physical urgency and impact. Listening to this colorful performance, you can really hear stuff happening from one moment to the next. The actual plot is irrelevant to your enjoyment. What stays with you is a sense of movement, of thrills and chills on the way to a gloriously happy ending. (review by David Hurwitz)
L'Enfant et les Sortilèges
(Elizabeth Futral, Juanita Lascarro, et al; London Symphony Orchestra, New London Children's Choir; André Previn, conductor)
Don't be fooled by this disc's cartoonish cover. With its libretto by Colette and music by Ravel at his witty, jazzy peak,L'Enfant et les Sortilèges is hardly kiddie stuff, even if it is about a wicked child who has an epiphany when the inanimate objects he abuses begin talking back. It's an ideal CD opera, since it demands a fantastical staging that's best left to the imagination, and this new recording is among the best available. Surely, it's sassier, broader, and funnier than Previn's well-received previous recording; since making that recording, the conductor revitalized his jazz career and it shows in the new performance, which also has some sterling vocalism in three different roles by the woefully underrecorded soprano Elizabeth Futral. Also, the engineering has superb depth of field, revealing numerous, often unheard details in Ravel's most multifaceted score. Its main competition is also on Deutsche Grammophon: Lorin Maazel's scintillating, well-sung recording in a two-disc, midpriced set that contains Ravel's other opera, L'Heure Espagnole. It's a good deal, but those who only want L'Enfant can pay less money overall and also get Previn's good-but-not-great Ma Mère l'Oye (a similarly playful twist on children's literature). (review by David Patrick Stearns)
Piano Concertos, etc.
(Alicia De Larrocha; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor)
Alicia de Larrocha's career has slackened off a bit as she's gotten older, but her interpretive powers in the music she loves so well haven't faded a bit. A couple of decades ago she recorded the two Ravel concertos for London records, performances which were among the most recommendable available. They fell out of print because big labels needed to make room for newer (often less good) versions of the same works. So it's cause for celebration that she has rerecorded these works for RCA.Leonard Slatkin's accompaniments are even finer than on her first versions--critical in this brilliantly scored music--and the sound is better too. (review by David Hurwitz)