Today’s Times covered the Philadelphia Orchestra and its new conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin visiting Carnegie Hall. The first song the orchestra played was Ravel’s La Valse; and as Ravel had turned me on to the power of musical impressionism, this paragraph sent me hustling to YouTube.
Ravel, who conceived of this piece as the “apotheosis of the Viennese waltz,” described the opening as “eddying clouds” that allow glimpses of waltzing couples until the clouds disperse. In this performance Mr. Nézet-Séguin drew out the music’s primordial qualities, as if the clouds were parting to reveal not waltzing couples but primitive dancers who had wandered in from “The Rite of Spring.” Ravel offers a radical deconstruction of the waltz, and sinister things keep happening in the background. The performance vividly captured both the score’s glittering splendor and its strangeness.
YouTube didn’t let me down. Leonard Bernstein conducting it, stunningly: