Kurt Masur / New York Philharmonic / Kenneth Radnofsky

Debussy, Ravel: Orchestral Works

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Debussy and Ravel are unfortunately not given their due artistic respect in this album, which is overall too slow and lacking in energy. In Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune the rather lethargic introduction and flute solo do not make the music come alive. A few minutes into the piece, the strings are sweeping and the orchestra comes into its fullness, but this simply does not give the listener the full effect of Debussy and his use of orchestral tone colors. The sound mixing is not ideal in this piece or in most of the album, for the harp is not very audible, and the higher voices also suffer. Radnofsky's saxophone solo in Rapsodie is played with great agility, like a clarinet. But the recording quality is simply too soft, even if Masur leads the orchestra to a loud fury at the end with majestic and grand brass. There are some lovely moments, especially in La Mer, where the orchestral unisons are well-synchronized, and beautiful lines overlap like waves, with tinkling passages in the upper registers. In general, Masur creates rather nice climaxes in the works, building them to exhilarating endings. As for Ravel, Bolèro is solid, with each instrument taking its solo and concluding with a clattering brass and percussion crash. But the introduction is barely audible, and there is nothing inspired about this interpretation of the piece. This seems imperative given how frequently it is played, in order for it to seem interesting and new. La valse suffers the worst: it is simply too slow to feel like a waltz, and it requires a feeling of continuity and forward motion. The treble voices are emphasized here, which is not ideal, as the low strings provide a menacing counterpoint to the brightness of the high strings and winds. Though lyrical at times, the piece needs to change character and moods more dramatically. The finale is exciting with well-articulated drum rolls and brass leading the way into a frenzy. On the whole, the mediocre recording and mixing quality detract from the music. It seems odd that though the recording is live, there are no audience responses or interesting musical blemishes here and there that take one right into the heart of the music. It is unfortunate when all the right elements (brilliant composers, a world-class orchestra, the best of recording technology) are in place, but the result is ordinary.

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