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Ravel: Orchestral Works (Basque/Trevino)

Basque National Orchestra/Robert Trevino (Ondine)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Valses nobles et sentimentales; Menuet antique; Frontispice (arr. Boulez); Shéhérazade – Ouverture de féerie; Ma Mère l’Oye
Basque National Orchestra/Robert Trevino
Ondine ODE1416-2   72:06 mins


This recording offers three also-rans and two masterpieces. The Menuet antique of 1895 was Ravel’s first published piano piece, orchestrated by him on commission in 1929. But whether he would ever have done so without encouragement may be doubted, given the strangely lumpy result, which no performance I’ve ever heard has managed to mitigate. The Overture Shéhérazade of 1899 (no relation to the songs) shows the composer aping Rimsky-Korsakov, experimenting with boredom, though minus the technique found in ‘Le Gibet’, La Valse and Boléro, and including so many whole-tone scales and chords he later admitted he was put off them for life.

Frontispice of 1918 for two pianos and five hands, which may have been intended for a piano roll, is two minutes of Ravel at his quirkiest. Pierre Boulez, commissioned to orchestrate it in celebration of the composer’s centenary in 1975, chose to expand it in texture, Ravel’s five strands (with the highest one playing sporadic bits of birdsong) being increased to as many as 30, all playing different motifs. The result, here recorded for the first time, is understandably more Boulez than Ravel. The players here do valiant work, as they do in the masterpieces, observing the composer’s markings with only a few exceptions.

Sadly, the generous acoustic spoils the opening of Valses nobles, turning Ravel’s bitter lemons into strawberries and cream. I wonder too why ‘Le Jardin féerique’ in Ma Mère l’Oye has got so much slower since Coppola’s 1933 recording, the marked crotchet = 56 becoming 40 or thereabouts (from Coppola’s 2:45 to today’s 4 minutes)?


Roger Nichols