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Le tombeau de Ravel 'Valses-caprices'

1957; for clarinet or viola and piano; clarinet version written for Gervase de Peyer; viola version for Richard Stoker

There is a distinct feeling of a debt being repaid in Le tombeau de Ravel, a set of Valses-caprices for clarinet or viola and piano composed in 1957 and one of Benjamin’s most delightful yet affecting works. This is among the composer’s last completed works. It sends us back to the early violin works of the 1920s when the French influence was at its height in his music. Though the original clarinet version was written for the young Gervase de Peyer, in July 1957 Benjamin informed his pupil Richard Stoker that he had completed ‘a version for viola and piano as Brahms did with his clarinet sonatas’. As with the Brahms works, it is possible to feel that the substitution of the viola gives the music an added plangency; and, as with the Brahms, the viola part is no simple transposition of the one for clarinet but has many incidental differences in substance. The title recalls Ravel’s own memorial work, Le tombeau de Couperin, though the music from time to time is more redolent of his Valses nobles et sentimentales.

The introduction, six waltzes and finale are played without a break. The very fast, agitated F minor introduction leads into the melancholic first waltz, which has echoes of both café and ballroom and becomes more fretful as it proceeds. The second waltz (Presto, volante), played with a light touch and sparsely accompanied, hurries us into the F major third (Andante semplice), whose melodic intimacy and apparent simplicity over quietly sophisticated harmonies, though rising to an unexpectedly desolate central climax, mimic Ravel better than any quotation. No 4 (Allegro, vigoroso) is a choppy, energetic dance vanishing in an upward spiral of triplets. No 5 (Allegretto, preciso, in F minor again) at first pits pizzicato viola against a simple accompaniment in the pianist’s left hand but soon opens out into a kind of hesitant firefly serenade, linking at last into the C major sixth waltz (Lento, intimo). Here the memorial function and deeply elegiac vein that ultimately underpin the entire work become most delicately, stylishly explicit. The finale, however, banishes these shadows in a concluding waltz-fantasy that intermingles several themes, including reminiscences of previous waltzes, and that eventually returns us to the unquiet mood and music of the introduction, as Benjamin closes the circle with a defiant gesture of dismissal.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2014


Benjamin: Violin Sonatina & Viola Sonata
Studio Master: CDA67969Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for CDA67969 track 8

Recording date
9 December 2012
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Matthew Dilley
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Benjamin: Violin Sonatina & Viola Sonata (CDA67969)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: June 2014
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