Ravel's L'Heure espagnole remains somewhat less popular than his other short opera L'enfant et les sortileges (despite the fact that the latter puts larger demands with respect to staging). It is not entirely the fault of the work itself - the humor of the L'Heure is rather visual in character, and cannot be captured in audio-only - but neither can it reasonably be denied that L'enfant remains the more inspired, spirited and memorable of the two. That said, L'Heure has a splendidly charming and sly libretto; the music is still full of wit and elegance, and it is gracefully (and generally lightly) scored with plenty of exquisite touches.
As opposed to L'enfant, however - and I suspect the difference in popularity may be located here - L'Heure is not one of those operas that allow you to lie back and just savor the music, atmospheres and lushness of the score. It requires keeping up with the action and the text, whereas L'enfant can really be savored as a pure tone poem if you so wish. L'Heure can also be criticized for the lack of any real themes - there are wonderful, enticing melodic fragments aplenty, but they faithfully serve the text and the action and generally don't work very well on their own.
The recording at hand was the first digital one, following a 35 year gap since the previous recording. Among the benefits are the clarity and transparency of the orchestral playing - the LSO is on excellent form, and there are too many superb individual contributions to even begin listing them. Previn's handling of the score is overall very convincing; he shapes the melodic phrases and paces the drama excellently, though he seems to want to emphasize in particular the naivety and innocence of the work rather than the acerbity and wryness - and to be honest, one sometimes misses somewhat sharper edges and some humor in the orchestral playing.
As for the soloists, Kimberley Barber sings splendidly, although her voice lies in the darker end of the soprano range, which makes Concepcion sound rather dark and almost menacing at times - I suppose it will be a matter of taste how this approach compares to, say, Suzanne Danco with Ansermet (I don't own the latter recording and haven't heard it recently, so I avoid passing judgment myself). It may also be worth mentioning that Ravel intended the opera to be sung by "singing actors" rather than "acting singers" and that the score includes the instruction to "declaim rather than sing". Barber sings, and so does the other soloists, but so does as far as I know virtually everyone else on all the most salient alternative recordings. The male singer acquit themselves well, at least, and despite a certain absence of Gallic lightness and charm, there is plenty of spirit and vivacity.
As a filler we get a very fine Rapsodie espagnole; spirited and clean though not quite outshining Abbado's version (my personal first choice; others will probably disagree). The sound is, as already mentioned, very good, and it all adds up to a very fine release - I am less sure that it is a first choice (and I do think the Previn-led recording of L'enfant is the better of his pair of recordings), but it will most certainly provide lots of entertainment.
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Maurice Ravel ~ Ravel: L`Heure Espagnole / Raps
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 4.94 x 0.45 inches; 3.68 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Deutsche Grammophon
- SPARS Code : DDD
- Date First Available : February 11, 2007
- Label : Deutsche Grammophon
- ASIN : B00000JNPE
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #328,248 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
4 out of 5
3 global ratings