Review by: Victor Carr Jr
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
This is one terrific album! Put aside your expectations of how Ravel’s music should sound based on prior experience of it as played by world-class orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic (Boulez), Concertgebouw (Haitink), Boston Symphony (Ozawa), London Symphony (Abbado), or Montreal Symphony (Dutoit). Only the French National under Martinon offers a unique and distinctive (i.e. “French”) sound, but even that ensemble boasts a polished refinement that is far and away different from the wonderfully rustic timbres of the Basque National Orchestra.
Under the direction of conductor Robert Trevino, this band from San Sebastián in the Basque Country (which straddles the border between France and Spain) conjures an exotic affect most apparent in Ravel’s Spanish-influenced works, particularly in Rapsodie espagnole: the dream-state of the opening Prélude à la nuit rightly seduces here, while the closing Feria delightfully invokes a castanet-playing flamenco dancer. In Trevino’s hands Alborada del gracioso evokes the orchestra-sized guitar Ravel envisioned.
But it’s not only the overtly Spanish-styled works that succeed in this collection; Trevino and his forces also ideally capture the plangent tones of Pavane pour une infante défunte, as well as the luxurious delirium of La valse. Even Boléro holds the attention here, as the Basque musicians play with a freshness that belies the work’s warhorse status. Trevino’s powerful reading of Ravel’s early and rarely programmed Une barque sur l’océan is a welcome bonus.
Ondine’s vivid, wide-ranging recording draws you directly into the performances, making this release a must-have for seasoned Ravelians and newcomers alike.
Reference Recording: Dutoit (Decca); Ozawa (DG); Martinon (EMI/Warner); Munch (RCA)
Basque National Orchestra, Robert Trevino