This excellent disc brings together, as far as I know, all of Ravel's chamber music for the violin with various one-instrument accompaniment (and in the case of the sonata for violin and cello not merely accompaniment). It is, quite simply, a delight from beginning to end. To start with the shorter works, the Kaddisch and Berceuse are poignantly played and the Habanera is lightly and subtly varied in texture and color. Juillet's singing, smooth tone is as deliciously perfect as I could possibly imagine, and the playing is, even more importantly, exquisitely phrased.
A solitaire in French is a single mounted jewel, a concept that seems less than apt for the rather hefty works recorded here by British pianist Kathryn Stott. But this fine recital holds together in another way: Ravel, who so often provides the temporal endpoint for traditional piano recitals, is here, to a greater or lesser extent, the launching point for the other three composers featured. Stott's reading of the neoclassical Le Tombeau de Couperin is beautifully precise and balanced, catching the economy of this Baroque-style suite to the hilt. That economy carries over into the later works, even the rarely performed Piano Sonata of Henri Dutilleux, a work that deftly fuses Ravel's sense of classical forms with a largely dissonant language. The opening Prelude and Fugue of Jehan Alain, actually two separate works that are reasonably enough combined here, is another seldom-played piece that makes an arresting curtain-raiser, and the final "Le baiser de l'Enfant Jésus" of Messiaen, part of the giant Vingt regards sur l'Enfant Jésus, is the splendid climax of the whole, its spiritual, dreamlike ascent at the end superbly controlled. Better still is the sound, recorded at Hallé St. Peters in Manchester: it creates a hypnotic effect all its own.
Bernard Haitink's classically clear and direct approach combines élan, elasticity and, where appropriate, tremendous rhythmic punch – his readings of Boléro and La valse are volatile, yet thrillingly disciplined to the last. He brings a natural compulsion to the languorous eroticism of Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, while his idiomatic handling of the earliest (and slightest) of these works, the Menuet antique and familiar Pavane pour une infante défunte, is equally beguiling. Haitink's painstaking attention to fine orchestral detail adds refined distinction to his Valses nobles et sentimentales and crystalline delicacy to both Le tombeau de Couperin and the more elusive Ma mère l'oye. There are few more vibrantly evocative, or palpably exciting versions of the Rapsodie espagnole and Alborada del gracioso. Don't be in the least surprised, however, if the phenomenal sound quality prompts an incredulous second glance at the recording dates quoted in the booklet!