If you already paid full price for Yuja Wang's mostly excellent Ravel Concertos, you'll have to duplicate with this set. It's a frustrating practice, one that happens infrequently, but which always causes consternation whenever someone makes such a decision. As the first major project of Lionel Bringuier at the Tonhalle, this has definite appeal for fans of the orchestra, but I have some reservations.
As I wrote in my review of Wang's tastelessly photographed concerto disc, Lionel Bringuier is an intelligent musician who hasn't yet proved that he's doing the music world a service by conducting Ravel. Recording a cycle of anything – even of a composer who wrote as little as Ravel – should be a testament to one's musical affinity with a composer. I say should be, but Deutsche Grammophon seems intent on making Andris Nelsons do the same sort of thing, except with big names like Beethoven and Bruckner. The label has excellent Ravel from Boulez (mostly available), Abbado (less interesting than Boulez but still very good) and Ozawa (in Boston, beautifully recorded, and almost totally ignored). In other words, this is a very long way of saying that this project strikes me as both jumping the gun and mostly unnecessary.
The playing is very good. Both soloists are terrific, as is the choral work (such as it is). But Bringuier falls to convince us that he's "in" this music, and that has absolutely nothing to do with sounding "French". Rather, the music requires a grasp of orchestral color and a command of rhythm that I'm not convinced is yet on display. All the notes are here and everything is thoroughly professional. But it all lacks sparkle, and there is a feeling that no one is having much fun. This music doesn't have to be sexy: The English in particular have never warmed to that facet of the music. But it does require atmosphere and flair. It's not here. The music is simply too matter of fact, and when the tempos go up, the excitement paradoxically does not. While this set is reasonably priced and you get a lot of music, the same could be said of Jean Martinon on Warner. That also gives you Debussy's orchestral music, too. At the same price, or even a little lower, you get playing and conducting of far more character and interest. All in all, this is average, maybe a little above. At any rate, it fails to become a top recommendation.
Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman