Valses nobles et sentimentales
Le tombeau de Couperin
La valse – poème chorégraphique Ravel, orch. Marius Constant
Gaspard de la nuit
Orchestre National de Lyon
Recorded between September 2011 and November 2012, Auditorium de Lyon
CD No: NAXOS 8.572888 Duration: 67 minutes Reviewed: December 2013
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin – Ravel Orchestral Works 2 – Valses nobles et sentimentales, Le tombeau de Couperin, La valse, Gaspard de la nuit [Naxos]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Volume Two of Leonard Slatkin’s intended ultra-complete Lyon/Naxos survey of Ravel’s Orchestral Works (including pieces that became so as scored by others, such as Gaspard de la nuit, included here, and also with some first recordings) begins and ends with waltzes, opening with those with a Schubertian caste and closing with the one haunted by World War One.
Energy and poise inform the start of Valses nobles et sentimentales, introducing a recognisably French timbre to Orchestre National de Lyon’s sound (not as obvious these days with geographical boundaries have been hurdled by itinerant musicians) with many beguiling colours that are Monet-like in their interaction. Not that it’s all water lilies, for clarity abounds, nothing is highlighted nor anything submerged. With ideal pacing, pert rhythms and flexible phrasing throughout this set of eight dances, Slatkin and his players are very persuasive, and the seductive flute-playing is a bonus. I moved next to Le tombeau de Couperin, which looks even further back in time to the harpsichord precision of the eponymous composer and musical antiquity that finds Ravel honouring friends lost in World War One. Here the opening ‘Prélude’ is light on its feet, the solo oboist nimble, musical strands lit from within. The ensuing ‘Forlane’ similarly flows along crisply yet expressively, the playing lively. Then the touching ‘Menuet’, really quite sad, is exquisitely done, the very ending unbearably poignant. If the final ‘Rigaudon’ scampers merrily, there remains the sense of something lost and irreplaceable. Totally related is La valse, initially a representation of Vienna in its imperial heyday which is then destroyed by the carnage that was “The Great War”. This is no orchestral showpiece but a deeply shocking and shattering masterpiece if dug into for its full potential, as it is here, glittering balls to the fore although a little more sense of catastrophe at the end is needed.
As for Ravel’s piano masterpiece, Gaspard de la nuit, who would have the temerity to orchestrate it when the composer himself did not (given his impeccable track-record of such transcriptions, he could have done so). Step forward the born-Bucharest, died-Paris composer and conductor Marius Constant (1925-2004) – who wrote The Twilight Zone theme – to take such an innately pianistic work and let it live through the orchestra. Constant doesn’t second-guess what Ravel might have done. Rather his scoring (made in 1990) is wonderfully imaginative and suggestive, faithful without being intimidated by having Ravel, a master orchestrator, looking over his shoulder. The mysterious and macabre nature of this great piece is vividly re-created, and subtly and hauntingly coloured in the impassiveness of ‘Le gibet’. As for ‘Scarbo’, Constant brings out all its demons, creating images in our minds, the colours kaleidoscopic and the atmosphere tense and unpredictable; yet the piano original remains rather more singularly malevolent. Nevertheless Constant’s achievement is to be admired and is not new to the catalogue – Christoph Eschenbach has recorded it, for example. Clearly Slatkin has total belief in what Constant did and he and the ONL revel in the ‘new’ perspectives given to the music. Tim Handley's production values and recorded sound are both top-drawer.