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Cat. No. CHAN 6615 Price: £4.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 6615 - Ravel/ Debussy/Milhaud: French Favourites
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Available From: 20 July 2000
Initial reaction to ‘La Valse’ was subdued. Diaghilev, who had commissioned it for his Ballet Russes, was bemused: ‘It’s a masterpiece… but it’s not a ballet… it’s the portrait of a ballet… it’s a painting of a ballet’. In Ravel’s own words, it is ‘a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz combined with a fantastic whirling motion which leads to death’. He cheerfully labelled his ‘Bolero’ ‘a piece for orchestra without music’. It was born of his frustration at finding the conductor Enrique Arbós had pre-empted him in orchestrating some movements for Albéniz’s ‘Iberia’, which Ravel had intended for a ballet for Ida Rubinstein. So, instead, one morning Ravel picked a tune out on the piano and declared that he was going to subject it to varying orchestral effects without any thematic development.

Throughout his life, Darius Milhaud, though he wandered far, never lost touch with his Jewish heritage or his Provençal roots. The tunes that he arranged in his ‘Suite Provençal’ are third-hand, having originated with the eighteenth century composer André Campra, and been first used in the incidental music he wrote in the 1930s for two plays performed in the Provençal town of Orange. The harmonies are all thoroughly modern and, although suggesting ancient models, the instrumentation is his own.

On one level, Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ is a superbly crafted seascape. He was not afraid to write pictorial music. He was by his own proclamation, a ‘musicien français’, and all his country men had combined pictorial vividness and musical logic since the time of the Baroque harpsichordists, whose music Debussy admired. But here, Debussy brought to perfection a method of musical construction that owed little to traditional notions and themes, modulations, expositions and developments; one can trace bits of melody through ‘La Mer’, but his structures work on an almost subliminal level. Drawing the listener along, but providing few signposts to point the way ahead, or maps to survey the territory left behind.
Reviews

‘Strings, woodwind and percussion each get opportunities to shine, and Järvi manages unerringly to capture the mood of each movement.’
BBC Music Magaine

‘The virtuosity is simply staggering, and Järvi conducts the most convincing performance I have ever heard.’
American Record Guide

‘Neeme Järvi’s version of ‘La Mer’ has much going for it; it has a subtle sense of flow and a good feeling for texture.’
The Penguin Complete Guide

 

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