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Evening of Ravel

at Lowell House, tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday

By Michael Ryan

MAURICE RAVEL was the composer for his time and his country. In France when the American exiles had taken over Paris, when Les Six were beginning to compose, Ravel's music expressed the spirit of the age, the wistfulness, the anger, and the hope. He was a beacon to the younger generation of musicians, the example they tried to follow.

Ravel's mistakes were often egregious. He allowed himself to be caught up in extravagant romanticism, in over-orchestrating, in lush overstatement where simple instrumentation would have sufficed. But, like the little girl in the Mother Goose rhyme, when he was good, he was very, very good.

L'Enfant et Les Sortileges is a fine expression of the spirit of France in the Twenties. Ravel wrote the score, Collette wrote the libretto, and the sum total is a blithe, flighty, brilliant piece of whimsy, one of Ravel's best. In the Lowell House version, young Anthony McLean does an outstanding job as the child. His voice is suited to the part, and his movements were extremely well done. He handled himself beautifully on stage, in a manner many adult actors might emulate. Jane Struss, who played three roles, was outstanding as she always is. Chalyce Brown, Roger Freeland, and Doyle Wilcox also handled multiple parts, and did them with great versatility and talent. Peter Wylde's staging of the production made optimal use of a small space, and Gerald Moshell's musical direction was top-flight.

An argument can be made, and I make it often, that Ravel reached the height of his creative powers in Le Tombeau de Couperin. He began the work in 1914, but finished after the War, turning it into a memorial for his soldier friends who were killed in action. Ravel's piece stands out among World War I compositions for the unity of its construction, its clarity, and its style. One need only contrast it to, say, Delius's Requiem to realize how compelling an expression of revulsion against war the piece is and how superior to others of the genre.

It its original piano version, in six movements, Tombeau sparkles. It is alternately light, tragic, happy, sad, and humorous, and always entrancing. On the piano, it is difficult (I was never able to master it), but, in its shorter four-movement orchestral version, it takes on a different tone. Naturally, it is slower in the orchestral version. It does not sparkle as much. But the Lowell House Tombeau is a technically flawless piece, which manages to bring out most of the emotions Ravel expressed in his original score.

The two other pieces on the program, the Pavanne for orchestra by Gabriel Faure, and Ravel's Introduction and Allegro were handled well, with harpist Cynthia Price handling the Introduction extremely well.

The idea of a Ravel evening is intriguing to begin with, and Moshell has chosen his program well. The current production is entertaining, lively, and well worth an evening's time.

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