Maurice Ravel and Modest Mussorgsky wrote two of classical music's most famous pieces—"Boléro" and "Pictures from an Exhibition" respectively—and it was Ravel’s own orchestration of "Pictures" in 1922 that has become the standard version of the piece. Craig and von Oswald use this piece, taken from a Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performance from 1987, as well as the lesser known orchestral work "Spanish Rhapsody" from 1907 and of course "Boléro” as the basis of this reworking.
This last piece helps to open the disc. A dreamy drone slowly leads into its recognisable rhythm around the five minute mark. The normally steady snare drum rhythm is slowly brought to the fore in the form of glitchy castanets while the melody is accented by resonant stringed chords and muted horns that gradually accumulate and phase to resemble something more like the systems music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass than any of the source material. Sadly, this movement gets stuck in repeating the patterns for too long without any of the anticipated accumulation or climax of the original. The eventual introduction of some flickering electronic snares doesn't change the intensity much either and gradually "Boléro" is left to fade away ever so slowly.
It is from here that the album truly seems to get going. The "Boléro" riff returns here and there, but the highlight is a beautifully painted ambient zone embellished with Mussorgsky's strings and deep brass dramatics around the half-hour mark that runs over the interlude into the fifth movement. Those looking for a little more Ravel and Mussorgsky, though, will have to listen closely. Their presence is subtle, and perhaps more subtle than regular Deutsche Grammophon fans would like. Craig and von Oswald might have shot themselves in the foot by choosing to work with pieces that owe so much to widely recognisable riffs, but to their credit, their refusal to fully embrace them saves the work from becoming a Hooked on Classics-style cliché.
That aside, Craig and von Oswald's recomposing is simply mesmerising. The texture and flow throughout is a highlight that more than makes up for the poor start even though the forty odd minutes that follow the wasteful "Boléro" prologue are rarely dance floor material, as many might be hungry for. But the album does have passages that range from dubby electro to sweeping ambient and even a short run of brash minimal disco at the three quarter mark. While not likely to be as enduring or impactful as the originals, Craig and von Oswald's recomposition is still a fascinating and satisfying listen.
Sun / 19 Oct 2008
01. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Intro
02. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 1
03. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 2
04. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 3
05. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 4
06. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Interlude
07. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 5
08. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Movement 6