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Maurice Ravel
Rapsodie Espagnole
La Valse

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra

Review By Phil Gold
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  Here is an unusually fine version of the famous Bolero, played as the composer intended at a constant stately tempo. The orchestral playing is colorful and varied without any of the customary over exuberance or acceleration toward the end. The music is exciting enough when played with such sensitivity to weight, color, shape and rhythm!

Polish composer/conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski became Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra (then the Minneapolis Symphony) in 1960 at the age of 37, just two years after his North American debut with the Cleveland Orchestra. He held the position until 1979, when he left to concentrate on composition.

Skrowaczewski brings a sensuous touch to the Pavane, with gentle horn playing and wonderfully relaxed phrasing that shapes the piece and never drags or descends into schmaltz. He clearly has a sympathetic connection to Ravel, clearly understanding the composer’s intentions and inspiring his orchestra to realize his vision.

The Rapsodie Espagnole, with its muted strings and delicate colors, emerges as a work of great integrity, demonstrating the conductor’s subtle command of the orchestra.  But the most impressive performance here is  of the technically difficult La Valse. The extraordinarily complex orchestration demands the clear bass resolution and layering of low-level detail for which SACD is so much better-suited than Red Book, and the players deliver superbly. The atmospherics, swirls of energy and hints of danger and passion come through beautifully in this gutsy performance. The orchestra plays as one man under Skrowaczewski's baton, and I found myself wishing I had been there to witness this inspiring performance for myself.

As additional tracks, not issued on the original quadraphonic LP, we get a splendid and most intimate performance of Suite No. 3 from Daphnis et Chloé, plus a 5.0 mix of a short extract from the same work.

The original four-track Vox recording from November 1974 is presented here on the Mobile Fidelity label in two-channel and four-channel SACD, plus Red Book stereo. The sound is spacious, warm and clear, but rather laid back and not especially dynamic, except in La Valse and Bolero. Unfortunately the top and especially the bottom end were rolled off before the signal went to tape "to avoid boominess." Despite the imperfections of the recording, this disc captures the essence of this most impressionistic music, and this carefully engineered SACD release is a valuable contribution to the hi-res repertoire.



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