The cover to this record advises, "Play backwards!" Why? Has it just been discovered that Ravel encoded satanic messages into these scores, or that, when you hear them backwards, you hear "Turn me on, dead Composer", or perhaps, "I buried Claude"? No, nothing of the sort. Perhaps it would have been more accurate for Tacet to indicate, "Play inside out!", but that sounds less sexy. Indeed, the gimmick behind this LP release is that, on both sides, one is supposed to place the stylus in the inner groove. Then, throughout the course of the side, it travels away from the center of the record and finishes at the outermost groove. (The record has been pressed in such a way as to facilitate this—that is, both the innermost and outermost grooves are "locked" grooves, so there is no danger to the stylus, etc.) No special equipment is required and no adjustments are needed to your turntable; the groove pulls, one might say, the tone arm in the appropriate direction.
But why? Actually, there is a very good reason, and perhaps this isn’t a gimmick at all. Vinyl junkies like myself know that, on a standard LP, the outermost grooves generally have the most surface noise, and the innermost grooves generally have the most distortion. Both Boléro and La Valse start quietly and end loudly. In other words, the quiet music is most likely to be affected by surface noise and the loud music is most likely to be affected by distortion. If the LP is pressed inside out, however, the relationship is reversed, and the potential faults are minimized. (Relatively short LP sides help.) It’s rather clever. Tacet has sweetened the deal by using high-quality 180g vinyl, and the label touts the use of tube technology as well. The results are sonically outstanding: This is one of the best sounding records you’ll ever hear, and anyone who still appreciates records needs this, although it is a little bit pricey.
This is hardly the first record to be pressed in this manner—see kempa.com/2004/03/04/oh-inverted-grooves for information on prior uses of this technique. (Also, see elsewhere on that site for a discussion of the even more arcane topic of parallel grooves!) It’s not likely to become a habit, at least in the classical world, because it really only makes sense to press a record inside-out if the music it contains has the same dynamic architecture as the present two works. (If you’re lying awake in bed some night, try making a mental list of such works!) What about the performances? Rizzi’s Boléro is quite good. He takes 16:33 to play it, which places it among the slower recordings, and those that have more cumulative power. The various solos are characterfully played by the members of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and even if the performance is not the most overwhelming or the most thrillingly played to be released on any medium, there is nothing wrong with it, and I enjoyed it without reservation. La Valse is a little less successful. Simply put, it is not menacing enough for me, and as it reaches ist climax, some of the orchestral playing seems uninspired, or at least unimaginative. Still, it’s not a bad performance, and the sound quality helps put it over. You won’t want to get rid of Dutoit, however, or Munch, or Bernstein, or…well, as is sung in The Mikado, "the task of filling in the blanks I’d rather leave to you."
The CD equivalent to this release also includes the Pavane for a Dead Princess, Tzigane, and Mother Goose. I haven’t heard it, but since Tzigane also would benefit from a backwards LP, perhaps there will be a sequel to "oreloB," as Tacet playfully has dubbed this LP release.
!dednemoccer ylhgiH elttuT dnomyaRRaymond Tuttle