French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was noted for his dedication to melody and tonality. The composer’s music was never part of the prevailing musical winds of the day (strong Wagnerian influence versus the impressionism of Claude Debussy). Instead, Ravel kept his eye on the heart of things composing with delicate rhythm, hyper-refined melody, harmonic luxuriousness, and sparkling orchestration
While often associated with the French impressionist movement (typified by artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne) Ravel was also identified with neo-classicism, but neither adequately describe his compositions. While Ravel’s sound is qualitatively similar to that of Debussy harmonically and melodically, Ravel's music is more crystalline with an acutely refined sense of order, cleanliness and articulation.
Under the lens today are some of Ravel’s more notable shorter pieces performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Paavo Järvi. The performances of the orchestra are crisp and clean, in keeping with Ravel’s compositional style. The second Suite from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé is sumptuous and playful. Bolero is taken at an adequate clip and benefits from the fine sonics provided by the Telarc engineering team. Probably most satisfying is a late piece La Valse, composed toward the end of the composer’s life, when he was perishing from an unidentifiable neurologic degeneration. It is beautiful and disturbing, as if Strauss composed on the downside of bipolar disorder.
Following their well-received recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suites, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra are continuing to investigate 20th Century composition with grace and intelligence.