For listeners who prefer their Ravel lushly textured, luminously colored, and luxuriantly impressionistic, this four-disc set of his orchestral music performed by Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal will be just the thing. Recorded between 1981 and 1995 in warmly opulent Decca sound and including all the canonical works plus the two piano concerts and the opera L'Enfant et les sortiléges, Dutoit's approach to Ravel is decidedly sensual, even tactile. One can feel the excitement in the closing "Dance générale" of Daphnis et Chloé, sense the energy in La Valse, smell the sea in Une barque sur l'océan, and touch the dancer's flushed skin in Boléro. This is not to say that details are lost in Dutoit's performances – with the superlative playing of the Montreal orchestra, one can assuredly hear everything in the scores. Nor is this to say that Dutoit neglects the music's clear shapes and lucid forms – with a decisive beat and a clean technique, Dutoit's interpretations are models of clarity. But it is assuredly to assert that, for sheer aural beauty, these recordings cannot be beat. With the very virtuosic and very French playing of Pascal Rogé in the two piano concertos plus very characterful singing in L'Enfant, this set will be mandatory listening for all those who love Ravel.
By virtue of their diverse styles and extraordinary technical demands, Ravel's solo piano works present a daunting challenge to anyone who would record them as a complete set. From the sublime Pavane pour une infante défunte and the crystalline Sonatine, to the dazzling impressionism of Miroirs and the nightmarish intricacies of Gaspard de la nuit, Ravel's keyboard music reflects all aspects of his spontaneous imagination and his involved artistic development. Few performers have completely mastered this complex body of work and recorded it superbly, but versatile Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is in that select company. His 1988 performances have been esteemed for their consistency, sensitivity, and compelling energy, and this reissue from Chandos is likely to garner even more praise for Lortie. Previously available in two volumes, this double disc is newly remastered, and Lortie sounds better than ever, particularly in such exquisite works as Le tombeau de Couperin and Valses nobles et sentimentales. Lortie's careful shading of subordinate lines and subtle use of dynamics in his coloristic effects invite repeated listening. Best of all, he captures Ravel's dry wit and irony with his mannered shaping of gestures, most effectively in Le tombeau, the Sérénade grotesque, and the Menuet antique.
In the late 1940s, the pioneering Decca recording engineers perfected a new set of microphone techniques that allowed the full range of frequencies to be fully heard by listeners for the first time, and the term ‘full frequency range recording’ was launched. It was a major revolution in sound quality, and the beginnings of high fidelity.