Ravel – La Valse (hr-Sinfonieorchester)

Conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) performs Maurice Ravel’s La valse, poème chorégraphique pour orchestre (a choreographic poem for orchestra). Recorded at the hr-Sendesaal music venue on November 5, 2011.

The work was written between February 1919 and 1920 and premiered in Paris on 12 December 1920. It was conceived as a ballet but is now more often heard as a concert work.

Ravel also transcribed this work for one piano. The solo piano transcription is infrequently performed due to its difficulty.

The beginning starts quietly (the mist), with the rumbling of the double basses with the celli and harps subsequently joining. Silently and gradually, instruments play fragmented melodies, gradually building into a subdued tune on bassoons and violas. Eventually, the harps signal the beginning culmination of instruments into the graceful melody. Led by the violins, the orchestra erupts into the work’s principal waltz theme.

A series of waltzes follows, each with its own character, alternating loud and soft sequences.

  1. The variations by oboe, violins and flutes, mild, slightly timid but nevertheless sweet and elegant.
  2. The eruption of the heavy brass and timpani begins the next ebullient and pompous melody. The tune is sung by the violins as cymbals crash and the brass blare unashamedly.
  3. Afterwards, the violas lead a tender tune, accompanied by luxuriant humming in the cellos and clarinets. It disappears and once again returns to the sweet variations and extravagant brass.
  4. Enter a rather restless episode with dramatic violins, accompanied with precocious (yet seemingly wayward) woodwinds. Castanets and pizzicato add to the character of a rather erratic piece. It ends meekly and clumsily in the bassoons.
  5. The piece relapses into previous melodies, before a poignant and sweet tune begins in the violins. Glissando is a characteristic feature. The gentle violins are accompanied by ornate, chromatic swayings in the cellos and glissando in the harps. The tune is once again repeated by the woodwinds. As it ends, it begins to unleash some kind of climax, when it is suddenly cut off by a sweet flute.
  6. The flute plays a rather playful, repetitious melody, accompanied by the glockenspiel and triangle. In between, the violins seem to yearn, whilst the harps play and (bizarrely) the horns trill. Once more, as it nears its conclusion, it tries to build up into a climax, but descends once more into the ‘mist’ of the beginning.
    1. So begins the piece’s second half. Every melody from the first section is re-introduced, although differently, in the second section. Ravel has altered each waltz theme piece with unexpected modulations and instrumentation (for example, where flutes would normally play, they are replaced by trumpets). As the Waltz begins to whirl and whirl unstoppably, Ravel intends us to see what is truly happening in this waltz rather symbolically.

      Once more, Ravel breaks the momentum. A macabre sequence begins, gradually building into a disconcerting repetition. The orchestra reaches a danse macabre coda, and the work ends with the final measure as the only one in the score not in waltz-time.

      Sources

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