New Releases: Ravel Orchestral Music, Chopin and Graupner

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A few commenters groaned at the appearance of Ravel's Bolero on the 2013 Classical Countdown. "I would vote for Ravel's Quartet over his Bolero by a mile," wrote Peter from Brooklyn. "No Mirrors or La Valse?" asked an exasperated Bernie from the Upper West Side. "Seems odd."

While some feel Bolero is played out, others adore the theatrical piece, which landed at No. 48 on the listener survey. Regardless, this week, we showcase several other sides to Ravel's orchestral output. Plus, the new Gilmore Award winner Rafał Blechacz playing Chopin and music by overlooked Bach contemporary Christoph Graupner.

Ravel: Orchestral Works Vol. 2
Orchestre National de Lyon
Leonard Slatkin
Available at

In 2010, Leonard Slatkin added a new directorship to his already thick resume, the Orchestre National de Lyon. Besides his work with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra he spends a dozen weeks a year now with this important French orchestra. Right off the bat he began recording Maurice Ravel’s orchestral music with the ensemble and this second volume features a mix of popular favorites, and unusual arrangements of well-known piano works. Included is an effervescent reading of Valses nobles et sentimentales, featuring plenty of atmospheric warmth, and a positively burning rendition of Vienna-gone-mad La valse. Most unusual is Marius Constant's technicolor orchestration of Gaspard de la nuit, with its shimmering “Ondine” and frenetic “Scarbo.”

Rafał Blechacz, piano
Chopin Polonaises
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at

Until last week, the Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz was a decidedly under-the-radar musician in the U.S. Then the 28-year-old picked up the $300,000 Gilmore Award, his first big American prize, and a wash of media attention – including an appearance in The Greene Space at WQXR. While the latter event gave us a taste of his Chopin playing (a specialty), this DG release goes deeper. There are seven Polonaises in all, including the famous ones in A-major (Op. 40) and A-flat Major (Op. 53). Throughout, Blechacz shows a sensitivity to voicing and a sound that can be both grandly regal and highly subtle.


Christoph Graupner: Orchestral Suites
Finnish Baroque Orchestra
Available at

Christoph Graupner (1683-1760), a German contemporary of J.S. Bach, was renowned in his day but utterly obscure now. But this Darmstadt court composer was immensely prolific: if you are impressed by Bach's catalogue of about 200 surviving church cantatas, take a look at Graupner's output of some 2,000 works in virtually every form. A significant part of his orchestral output consists of concertos and suites with diverse, sometimes very curious instruments in the solo ensembles. In this recording the Finnish Baroque Orchestra plays his suites for the flûte d'amour, a flute pitched a third lower than the normal transverse flute, and the viola d'amore, an instrument roughly the same size and shape as a viola but with resonating free strings.