Michel Block / Carlo Maria Giulini / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Ravel: Ma mere l'oye - Suite; Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand; Debussy: La Mer

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This performance is not perfect, though one might reasonably expect it to be, because the orchestra is the Berliner Philharmoniker, arguably the greatest orchestra in the world with a technique of super-virtuoso brilliance, and the director is Carlo Maria Giulini, arguably the most poetic conductor of his time, whose interpretations were praised for their profound beauty. Nevertheless, throughout this live recording from January 10, 1978, there are imperfections: some tiny slips in ensemble, a few flawed balances, and a handful of missed notes. Listeners for whom that matters may stay away from this disc, but they will miss some of the most brilliant playing and some of the most ravishingly beautiful interpretations of this repertoire ever recorded. There is perfection in the Berlin's woodwinds in Ravel's Ma mère l'oye's "Laideronnette," the brass in the march from Ravel's Concerto for the left hand, the strings in Debussy's La Mer's "Dialogue du vent et de la mer," and the cellos in La Mer's "De l'aube à midi sur la mer." The radiant colors Giulini elicits in "Le Jardin féerique," the blazing heat of the opening tutti of the concerto, or the luminous sensuality at the climax of "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" approach the ideal sonic embodiment of the scores. Although the live broadcast recording limits the immediacy of the sound, it is still good enough to let the glorious performances shine through.

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