Ravel: Rapsodie Espagnole, La Valse, Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte, Alborado del Gracioso
Ibert: Escales (Ports of Call)
Paul Paray, conductor
Pressing: Early maroon (with Vendor label)
Price range: $27-365, mean $128 on popsike
Comments: This is my all-time favorite Mercury Living Stereo recording. The album opens with the exotic Rapsodie Espagnole at a tempo which seems to be a little quicker than other recordings I've heard recently but works. Alborado del Gracioso, one of the orchestrated movements from Ravel's Miroirs, also starts out briskly, but the DSO is able to keep things together. The Pavane boasts some truly lovely wind solos. Concluding the Ravel portion of this album is La Valse, in which Paray and the DSO take us listeners for quite an exciting ride. There aren't too many recordings of Ibert's L'Escales (the other one I'm familiar with being the Munch recording on RCA), but this one ranks with the best. What a seductive oboe solo in the second movement!
Sound quality is excellent and representative of the very best Mercury offered at the time. From the front cover, one can see that this was one of the albums recorded using "original 35mm magnetic film". It has a huge dynamic range with absolutely no loss of clarity whatsoever during loud climaxes. Clarity is superb and particularly appreciable when it comes to hearing individual wind parts, particularly in Feria, the brilliant finale of Rapsodie Espagnole, the Pavane, and La Valse. You can really feel the percussion in La Valse and the opening movement of L'Escales. Unlike in the last Paray album I discussed (SR 90205), the mikes were probably set up some distance behind the conductor. Rather than being up close and personal, the listener is still placed close to the musicians but far back enough to hear some air around the orchestra. Just turn up the volume a little, sit back, and enjoy. This is French impressionistic music at its best.
Some notes on the recording, taken from the liner notes. "This recording was made in the auditorium of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan. Three microphones were used for the stereo version, and a single one for the monaural. All microphones remained, after being carefully tested, in one location throughout the session; recording levels also remained absolutely constant. No limiting or compression is imposed on the recorded level in any later processing. The recording was originally done on 35-mm magnetic film, an extremely expensive medium which has many technical advantages; no hiss, truer transient response, no flutter, extremely accurate delineation of the timbre of instruments. Wilma Cozart was the recording director; Harold Lawrence was the musical supervisor; C. R. Fine was technical supervisor, and Robert Eberenz was his associate. The stereo film-to-disc transfer was made by George Piros, the monaural by John Johnson."
Outstanding in every way.