Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bernard Haitink conducts Maurice Ravel

   In outburst of impressionistic music, two names are commonly cited – Claude Debussy’s and Maurice Ravel’s. Both were great composers, both created new idea of musical language. But even between these two great individuals, one composer occupies a separate although still prominent place. While Debussy’s idea was widely adopted by composers who treated it as a core of new trend, Ravel’s works imitation was very difficult if at all possible. Maurice Ravel was great impressionist, but most of his works are composed without the idiomatic elements of impressionism like blurred rhythm or vague harmonics. The secret ingredient of Ravel’s style was absolute masterity of orchestration augmenting orchestral coloristic possibilities.
   Maurice Ravel has strong connections with dance music, which was giving him an inspiration for developing phrases and melodic lines in accordance to the rules of human body movement. Also his dance music was always more than accompaniment only. Ravel described his ballet Daphnis et Chloé as a “symphonie choréographique”, which means this music was intentionally meaningful and self sufficient. Sometimes the name of the dance in title of Ravel’s work was only reference to particular moment in history and emotional context. Series of ephemeral feelings included in shimmering orchestral colors were the background of his impressionistic compositions.

Concertgebouw-Orchester plays Ravel (1987)

   Undeniably impressionistic music demands full spectrum of orchestra capabilities. Many layers of musical narration, decisive role of sound quality, fine nuances in articulation and dynamics are the features giving Ravel’s music exceptional style. The perfect recordings of Ravel’s works made by Concertgebouw-Orchestra in Amsterdam show how great this orchestra really is. From many editions of Ravel’s works played by Amsterdam orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, Eduard van Beinum and Ricardo Chaily, one almost forgotten masterpiece is series of performances recorded in September 1961 in Amsterdam Grotezaal. It was published in 1987 by Eterna, the East-German label of great merit in building cultural bridges over the political borders. These recordings were also reedited and published on CD augmented with recorded in 1971 “Daphnis et Chloé” Suite No. 1 by Decca Eloquence label in Australia.
   The vinyl album includes only four 1961 recordings. Perfect rendition of “Daphnis et Chloé” Suite No. 2 in sound and rhythmic changes gives nice notion of idiomatic impressionism. This work could be an emblem of impressionism, especially in fragments giving feeling the vision is full of light. The dark and soft melody of Pavane pour une infante défunte is like an answer although it was composed before the suite. The rule of contrast comes back in two pieces filling B-Side, full of sparkling humor Alborada del gracioso and symphonic Rapsodie espagnole are two works of joyous, dancing energy and subtle, silky sounds giving sense of enchanting picture. Balancing between restrained emotionalism and light cleverness Bernard Haitink gave absolutely astonishing vision of Ravel’s works and Concertgebouw-Orchestra played this with the best sound one can imagine.
   The cover of Eterna album features Max Slevogt’s painting The dancer Marietta di Rigardo. The natural size image of the Spanish dancer is in possession of New Masters Gallery in Dresden. The piece was painted in 1904, so it is contemporary to the Ravel’s music, these pieces were composed between 1899 (Pavane) and 1912 (Daphnis et Chloé). The portrait of dancing lady perfectly fits the music, showing fine example of German impressionism.

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