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Ravel: Bolero, La Valse, Etc / Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic

Perhaps not unexpectedly, it’s the sound one notices first: full-bodied, sumptuous, deep, and very fresh sounding for its age (1971; Bolero from 1977); the re-mastering has captured every detail and flourish. The Alborada , which comes first on the program, has panache and swagger to burn. Jean Martinon, with this same orchestra (and on the same label) just a couple of years later, is just as dashing and animated; what’s different is the objectivity that Karajan offers—it’s as though the music, as vigorous as it is, is kept at arm’s length, the better to control its sometimes unruly propensities. Martinon is less gentlemanly. Both give very vital-sounding performances.

Le tombeau de Couperin is the highlight of the program: all of the delicacy and charm of this little gem are here, and Karajan’s objectivity doesn’t hamper his performance in the least. Both this performance and the recording of Alborada , according to the program notes, comprise Karajan’s sole phonographic accounts of these particular works. That is a mystery, since they are quite successful performances and capture the innate charm of Ravel’s orchestration. La valse is surprisingly earth-bound and deliberate in its initial minutes—one expects more atmosphere and mystery According to the notes, Karajan disliked this particular work, recording it, too, only once.

Bolero , with Karajan’s own Berlin Philharmonic, is just what one would expect: rhythmically precise, perfectly scaled, and paced to allow maximum orchestral impact, as the inexorable progress of the 16-minute crescendo reaches its climax

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  • Seller location: Lower Hutt City, Wellington, NZ

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