Stéphane Denève

Ravel: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

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Volume 1 of Stéphane Denève's series of the orchestral works of Maurice Ravel offers five of the composer's most popular compositions. Easily the best known is Boléro, a sophisticated study in orchestration built on a hypnotic ostinato that steadily rises to a violent climax. Right behind it in fame is La valse, which has a similarly obsessive waltz rhythm and a trajectory to an explosive conclusion. While these pieces are the most celebrated in Ravel's oeuvre, not least because of their memorable build-ups, the three remaining selections are much subtler in their orchestral effects and musical styles. Le tombeau de Couperin, based on the collection for piano, is an elegant suite displaying opulent impressionistic colors worked into Baroque dance forms. Alborada del Gracioso is the orchestral version of a dazzling and enormously difficult movement from the piano collection Miroirs, and it is a sparkling character piece that plays off the virtuosity of the original. Rapsodie espagnole is a tour de force of exotic colors and melodies based on Spanish folk music, always a source of inspiration for French composers. Denève leads the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in these 2012 performances, and the playing is vibrant and atmospheric, winning high marks for the delicate execution and carefully blended timbres that make Ravel's orchestral music marvelously transparent and magical.

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