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Ravel chestnut

A dazzling arrangement of 'Bolero' for two pianos,


Maurice Ravel's Bolero has long been one of the chestnuts of the orchestral repertoire -- a splashy, colorful showpiece. Composed in 1928 for the actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, Ravel painted his impressions of Spanish dance in bright, gaudy orchestral colors. (Ida Rubinstein was an important cultural figure of the first three decades of the twentieth century. Claude Debussy's The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, Igor Stravinsky's Persephone and Arthur Honneger's Joan of Arc at the Stake were also written for her.) In Bolero a rhythmic theme is repeated (to an incessant drum beat) until the music reaches a grand crescendo and a crashing climax -- an early version of minimalism long before Phillip Glass or Steve Reich. While many conductors play the work for sheer orchestral virtuosity, Ravel's own recording (which he conducts at a daringly slow tempo) emphasizes the music's sensuous Technicolor Latin panorama. In 1930, the composer transcribed the score for two pianos. This version has not received frequent performances. On 24 April 2004 at the Steinway Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida, USA, pianists Misha Dacic and Kemal Gekic opened an evening of music for duo-pianos with this dazzling arrangement. (The concert was presented by Patrons of Exceptional Artists.)

Ravel's two piano version of Bolero is wonderfully imaginative. In place of the repetitive percussion, there is a splendid rhythmic underpinning -- achieved with artistic imagination and style. In this pianistic guise, the music's sensual passion comes to the fore. The climax is achieved more naturally than in the orchestral version. Why is this miraculous transcription so rarely played? More than a mere note for note a re-arrangement, this version is a brilliant, vital reinvention of a familiar work. Dacic and Gekic called forth a wellspring of pianistic colors and subtleties from their keyboards. Their performance was filled with tonal beauty, beautifully gagged dynamic gradations, and a deep sense of the music's Franco-Spanish balletic roots. Rather than hard driving, power pounding brilliance, the duo-pianists brought musicality and idiomatic style to a memorable performance.

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Copyright © 11 May 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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