Recording Ravel's music on period instruments is the kind of thing that might raise a smile... until you realise just how much the production of instruments has changed in less than a hundred years: it's the return of catgut strings, skin drum heads, the French basson (and not the German system bassoon which is used across all the world's orchestras today), shaper tips, trumpets and trombones of French manufacture. At the head of his orchestra Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth gives a new, orthodox, historically-informed version of Ma Mère l’oye (complete ballet), the Tombeau de Couperin and Shéhérazade, the long-neglected "ouverture de féérie" [Fairy Overture] which is pure Ravel. This return to the roots is clearly easier and more straightforwardly authentic for this period of music history, because, unlike earlier works, we possess recordings which date back to the 1920s, and even earlier, which can tell us about the style, the colours, the phrasing and the tempo.
But it isn't enough just to have all this historical information to hand to make something interesting. What makes this record thrilling is that all the musicians in the Siècles are excellent, and François-Xavier Roth is a talented artist himself, who knows this music inside out. At which point, his complete recording of Stravinsky's Firebird has already struck us with its quality. This rediscovery of Ravel resounds with clarity and finesse; it is a feast of well-defined timbres which cuts against the "beautiful sound" which prevails in orchestras around the world today. © François Hudry/Qobuz