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 Favourites, Maurice Ravel

Maurice RavelIt's been a pleasure listening to so many fine recordings of the music of Ravel, perhaps best known for his orchestral work, Boléro. Ravel himself famously dismissed the piece as being "seventeen minutes of orchestra without any music". However, as the recordings below and many others amply demonstrate, in the right hands it can become more than just an empty orchestral showpiece.

Orchestral Works

Charles Dutoit conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in another double-disc collection of orchestral pieces, including a charming Ma Mère l'Oye, and a thrillingly energetic performance of La Valse. Only a suite from Daphnis is included rather than the whole ballet, but you do get some extra pieces not contained in the Boulez collection above, such as the Valses nobles et sentimentales and Ravel's own orchestral version of Le tombeau de Couperin.

Available Format: 2 CDs

A splendid recording of both piano concertos from French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, conducted by Pierre Boulez. Aimard's rapt, impassioned playing in the slow movement of the G major concerto is breathtaking, and the Cleveland Orchestra players impress, not least the contrabassoon solo that begins the Concerto for the Left Hand!

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Although of course this is not technically by Ravel, his orchestration of Mussorgsky's piano work has become famous as a piece in its own right. Emmanuel Krivine's recording with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg is full of wonderful colours and shows off Ravel's imaginative orchestration to great effect. The linking Promenades are never allowed to become stodgy, and there are many fine solo contributions from the Luxembourg players.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Vocal Works

Régine Crespin is the ravishing soloist in this lovely recording of Ravel's orchestral song cycle. Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande bring out the exoticism in Asie, and there's some suitably magical flute playing in La flûte enchantée.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

A satisfying collection of songs with piano accompaniment from mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch and pianist Alain Altinoglu. As well as delightful accounts of works such as Deux mélodies hébraïques and Trois chansons madécasses, they also treat us to a characterful performance of the Histoires naturelles, and other rarities.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Janet Baker is joined by the Melos Ensemble for a captivating recording of Ravel's setting of three poems by Stephane Mallarmé, as well as the Trois chansons madécasses in Rave's version for voice and chamber ensemble.

Available Formats: Presto CD, MP3, FLAC

Operas

Lorin Maazel conducts the Orchestre National de la R.T.F. in completely enchanting recordings of Ravel's two operas. French mezzo-soprano Jane Berbié takes the role of Concepción in L'heure espagnole, leading a magnificent cast including José van Dam and Michel Sénéchal. The performance of L'enfant et les sortilèges is equally fine, with Françoise Ogeas beautifully characterising the role of the rude child who is sent to his bedroom and subsequently scolded by all of the objects he has destroyed during his tantrums.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Chamber and Instrumental Works

A commanding performance from Quatuor Ebène in Ravel's String Quartet. The range of colours they bring to this music is always extraordinary, and in my opinion the balance between all four voices is just right. Also on the disc are fine recordings of quartets by Debussy and Fauré.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Violinist Frank-Peter Zimmermann and cellist Heinrich Schiff are ideal interpreters of this duo sonata, especially in the jaw-droppingly virtuosic second movement (Très vif).

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

A 2-disc survey from Steven Osborne of the complete music for solo piano, including beguiling performances of Gaspard de la Nuit and Miroirs, and a remarkable account of Le Tombeau de Couperin, full of imaginative colours and immaculate technique. Osborne's performance of the original solo piano version of the Pavane pour une infante défunte is just magical, and as a bonus he includes Ravel's own transcription of La valse, a real tour de force in Osborne's hands.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

The Melos Ensemble perform this sensitively seductive account of one of Ravel's most enticing works. The opening bars are truly spine-tingling, and throughout the Allegro there's an infectiously joyous freshness to every bar. A true treasure of a recording.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

A highly-polished account of Ravel's only Piano Trio from all three members of the Florestan Trio, anchored by pianist Susan Tomes and with equally striking support from Anthony Marwood (violin) and Richard Lester (cello).

Available Format: CD

The partnership of Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova and French pianist has produced many fine recordings, perhaps none more so than this disc of the complete music for violin and piano. The central Blues movement of the Sonata in G major is entertainingly stylish, and the Perpetuum Mobile that follows it shows off the virtuosity of both performers, as does a staggeringly awe-inspiring account of the showpiece Tzigane.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Boxed Set

14 discs with everything you could possibly want. As well as Maazel's accounts of the two operas I recommended above, you get a stunning performance of the G major Piano Concerto from Martha Argerich, luxurious orchestral works from Claudio Abbado and Charles Dutoit, and thoughtful, refined performances of the solo piano music from, amongst others, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Ivo Pogorelich.

Available Formats: 14 CDs, MP3, FLAC