replay: Ravel: The Last Six Compositions (1928-34) Pedro de Freitas Branco, Piero Coppola, Alfred Cortot, Marguerite Long, Charles Munch, Martial Singher (Recorded 1930-1939) (EMI Classics 5 65499 2))

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The Independent Culture
Now here's a thought-provoking slice of musical history. The annotator James Harding relates that for the last 78 rpm "side" of Bolero, Ravel asked the conductor Piero Coppola not to go so fast. "They began again," writes Harding, "and went on until Ravel was satisfied." Still, I do sometimes wonder whether HMV issued the right take - for what we actually hear is a sudden jolt forwards followed by a gradual slowing down. Certainly, as Boleros go, this 1930 world premiere recording is slower, rhythmically freer and rather less well-executed than most.

As to the Left Hand Concerto, Alfred Cortot makes highly personal poetry of the closing cadenza but tends to fumble elsewhere. Marguerite Long is neat and nimble in the G major Concerto with snappy but occasionally confused support under Pedro de Freitas Branco (and not Ravel, as was originally supposed); Coppola directs a taut and imaginatively inflected Menuet antique; and then there are the vocal items - three songs, Don Quichotte a Dulcinee, composed for a film starring Chaliapin but never used, and the sublime Ronsard a son ame, so powerfully reminiscent of L'Enfant et les Sortileges and, like the Don Quichotte songs, superbly sung by the baritone Martial Singher. EMI's transfers are miraculously quiet and clear.