Geoffrey Simon

Ravel: Five O'Clock Foxtrot; Boléro; La Valse

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There are two good reasons to hear this Ravel disc. The first is the arrangement of the Five O'Clock Foxtrot from his opera L'enfant et les sortileges arranged and orchestrated by Christopher Palmer. The second is the Piece in the form of a Habanera arranged for oboe and orchestra by Arthur Hoérée. With garish trombones, gaudy trombones, and bumptious percussion, the Foxtrot is sultrier than the original, and with a sinuous oboe solo and a sensuous orchestral accompaniment, the Habanera is sexier than the original.

Unfortunately, those are the only reasons to hear this Ravel disc. The performances by Geoffrey Simon and the Philharmonia Orchestra are well-executed but generic -- hardly the quality one looks for in this distinctive composer. The Philharmonia's winds are tepid instead of piquant, the strings are smooth instead of suave, the brass is brash instead of blended, and the percussion is loud instead of lucid. Simon's interpretations are likewise conventional. His Boléro is obvious. His Pavane is ordinary. His Tzigane is all flash. His La Valse is all sizzle. His Daphnis and Cholé Suite II is all Los Vegas, especially in the closing Danse générale. Except for the Five O'Clock Foxtrot and the Habanera, all these piece have had numerous better recordings, and except for the Five O'Clock Foxtrot and the Habanera, there is no good reason to hear this disc. Also, it should be noted that the performances on this SACD surround-sound disc were not actually recorded in surround sound. Originally recorded in 1986 and 1991, they were remastered in 2006 to simulate sound surround. Anyone interested in "surround sound" as such will be disappointed. These performances don't give a sense of being in the venue; they sound as though artificial echo was added to the rear channels. This does not noticeably improve the already too-hazy sound.

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