Ravel: L'Heure espagnole - Bolero

Ravel: L'Heure espagnole - Bolero

Time and time again, conductor François-Xavier Roth’s Ravel recordings have proved to be nothing short of revelatory. Played by an orchestra using instruments of Ravel’s own period, each has a rare tonal pungency and transparency of texture. Volume 5 in the series pairs Ravel’s one-act comic opera L’Heure espagnole with his most famous piece for orchestra, Boléro. The common theme is Spain and Spanishness. “That’s a very important part of Maurice Ravel’s identity, as a person and as a musician, because he grew up in the Pays Basque,” Roth tells Apple Music Classical. “So Spain was always extremely important to him.” L’Heure espagnole is set in 18th-century Spain, and follows the amorous shenanigans of a clockmaker’s wife and her various admirers. The native rhythms of jota, habanera, and malagueña pervade the music, spurring Ravel to coax new colors and combinations from the traditional symphony orchestra. “In suggesting Spain or Spanish elements,” says Roth, “he finds incredible opportunities to develop new ways of orchestration, especially in the huge number of percussion instruments he uses, including tam-tam, ratchet, whip, and xylophone.” The discovery of another percussion instrument in the new edition of Boléro used for the recording was, for Roth, startling. “A big surprise was Ravel’s use of the castanets,” he explains. “It’s something that we play on this album, but it has never been heard before.” Roth sweeps aside any suggestion that the ever-popular Boléro is a mere display piece, its gradual 15-minute crescendo based on repetitions of a single melody. “For me, it’s a kind of very provocative statement and a very obvious ‘happening’ in music,” he says. “It’s maybe the first music work without any music inside—just a concept.”

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