Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Karajan conducts Ravel and Debussy

   Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy were artists who have created new, revolutionary music in the time of decline the romantic era. As prominent composers, they have been jointed together by historic moment, cultural circumstances and artistic attitude. Both were musical rebels although private reasons of every one were quite different, both became the most prominent composers in antiromantic movement and last but not least, both are included to impressionism as major figures of the style. Despite many differences between them, the two composers are often shown together in one philharmonic evening, radio program or one record. And most frequent program of such exposure was always, two symphonic poems by Debussy and one or two of symphonic works by Ravel. Programs based on Ravel’s Bolero and La Mer by Debussy are always best choice.
   Bolero by Maurice Ravel was commissioned by dancer Ida Rubinstein and choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. Premiere took place in Paris Opera on November 22, 1928. Next year New York premiere was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and in 1930 four gramophone recordings were made under direction of Piero Coppola, composer himself, Serge Koussevitzky and Willem Mengelberg. After first reactions composer was surprised this uncomplicated work achieved so huge success, and he was criticizing his own work for lack of musical development. He called this work “one very long, gradual crescendo”. In classical symphonic categories, repeating two melodies changing leading instruments and accompanied instruments is neither original nor capacious idea.

Maurice Ravel – Bolero,  Claude Debussy – La Mer (1979)

   With its simplicity and expression, Bolero is work of genius. Written in C Major, ¾ time, based on ostinato rhythm of bolero, repeating by snare drum and sequentially joining instruments it is perfect vehicle for imagination. Two themes are following in repetition 18 times in more and more massive orchestration. Both themes are diatonic, although with modal shift in the second theme to Dorian mode, which gives some kind of moving impulse. Impressionistic sound sensibility gives best orchestras a lot of room to maneuver. It’s hard to find anyone more promising than Herbert von Karajan, one of best conductors ever. In Herbert von Karajan’s brilliant career complete set of great symphonic repertoire was performed and recorded many times in span of six decades. Some blockbusters and most popular concert pieces were just symphonic fragments from stage music. And Maurice Ravel’s Bolero was probably the piece most admired ever. And one of most reliable interpretation was recorded in 1966 by Herbert von Karajan with Berliner Philharmoniker where he was principal conductor from 1954 to 1989.
   In 1965 Karajan recorded with Berliner Philharmoniker program of three great impressionist works – on A-Side La Mer by Claude Debussy and on B-Side Ravel’s Suite N° 2 from «Daphnis Et Chloé» and Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft 138 923 SLPM). One year later, in 1966 Karajan recorded with the same orchestra album with Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition in Ravel’s brilliant orchestration and Bolero (DGG 139 010 SLPM). In 1979 recordings from those albums were base for new compilation of most popular works by Ravel and Debussy. Besides Bolero, program of this record includes La Mer and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, two symphonic poems by Claude Debussy, defining musical impressionism more specifically. The new set of old recordings was published in budget series Resonance (Deutsche Grammophon 2535 351). The dance nature of these compositions was shown in an impressive cover art.

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