Music Reviews - Debussy, Ravel and Ray Montford

      Date posted: October 22, 2005

Debussy: Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune; Nocturnes; La Mer; Berceuse Heroique
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,
Paavo Berglund
Telarc SACD 60617 Hybrid

Ravel: Suite No. 2 from Daphnis
et Chloe; Pavane pour an in-fante defunte; La Valse; Ma Mere L’Oye
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,
Paavo Berglund Telarc SACD 60601

Ravel, by Jarvi

      “It was all but inevitable that later ninetheenth-century French composers would become interested in the Symbolist poets. The Symbolists sought to duplicate in literature the effects of music by using vague images, elusive syntax, and fleeting ideas”, says Jonathan D. Kramer in liner notes for this recording. The famous Prelude was written as a musical equivalent of Mallarme’s poem, Afternoon of a Faun, while Nocturnes evolved from a violin concerto written for virtuoso and composer Eugene Ysaye that was never played. Debussy revised it without the violin part, adding an ethereal women�s chorus to underline the Symbolist inspiration. La Mer was composed in the mountains of Burgundy, where “my old friend the sea, always inexhaustible and beautiful” seemed to surge in the composer�s head. The lesser known Berceuse Heroique was composed in 1914 “shortly after the fall of Belgium at the beginning of World War 1, to honour the Belgian king and people”, according to notes by Michael Murphy. It was originally written for piano, and later orchestrated by Debussy.

      This recording, made in Cincinnati’s Music Hall, was engineered by Michael Bishop, using Milennia Media onstage microphone preamplifiers into Ed Meitner’s EMM Labs A/D converters, and recorded onto a Genex multichannel DSD recorder, the resulting SACD being a 5-channel release. Like the Ravel, it was recorded in sessions in January of 2003.

      The resulting disc is very natural and dynamic, without a hint of edginess on strings or brass, and a warmth and clarity that perfectly suits the music. It’s probably a bit more immediate and enveloping in 5 channels, but I could listen only in 4, with the rear channels matrixed rather than discrete, and it sounded glorious.

      Among Ravel’s works, La Valse and Bolero are among my least favourite, repetitive pieces that build as they progress, and in my case, bore. The former was written on a commission from “Sergei Diaghilev, who asked for a short ballet to share the program with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Ravel complied by writing La Valse, a bittersweet reminiscence of a world that had been destroyed by the war.” (again, World War 1)

      More to taste are the Daphnis & Chloe, Pavane, and the Five Nursery Songs from La Mere l�Oye, all played with grace and lyricism by the Cincinnati orchestra, who seem to have a special affinity to Jarvi. In fact, the solo woodwind playing in Bolero almost rescues it for me, but it can�t be saved from its numbing restating of the same melody a million times.

      Ravel described his Daphis et Chloe as an effort “to compose a large fresco painting, less in keeping with antiquity than with the Greece of my dreams, which was more closely related to a Greece such as French artists had portrayed at the end of the eighteenth century.” It was also composed for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, and the composer’s description aptly describes its deja vu orchestral colours.

      The Pavane is a favourite of even those who aren’t into classical music, and is sweetly portrayed here, as are the Five Mother Goose songs. If you want a pair of CDs that provide a good dollup of the most loved music of these two composers, which are also future proof when you get an SACD player, these provide a worthwhile investment in musical enjoyment and sonic richness.

Ray Montford/The Early Sessions
Softail ES04CD

      Here’s a CD I wanted to produce, having been given some of the early DAT masters to play with, but a variety of distractions kept me from doing any more than a couple of CD-Rs of these songs for Ray�s approval. I think, however, that he did the right thing by taking over the project and putting out this fabulous sounding CD, a kind of “Montford Unplugged”, with just a smattering of electric guitar, but with a strong grounding of acoustic playing at which Ray is a virtuoso.

      The tunes were recorded in late 1991 in “the last house on the road”, according to the notes, the location also known as “The Ice House”. It was later mastered and augmented with voices and other instruments at Ray’s Soundhole Studio.

Ray Montford Early Sessions

      Those who’ve been lucky enough to see Ray live will recognize many of the tunes, some of which have since made their way onto his other CDs in larger forms with band, such as Appalachia, May It Begin and Indiana. As Ray says in his brief notes, “this is how they were first conceived - lean and simple. I�m happy to revisit them now…” One of my favourites is One Witness, which throbs with energy driven by a subterranean bass line under the guitar, while Desert Heart is a slide guitar evocation of places visited on his big Harley. I�m glad to see this project come out of the vault, and I�m sure anyone who buys it at Ray�s site (www.raymontford. com) will happily agree.

Andrew Marshall

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