Darknesse Visible

Cross-channel exploration of pianistic darkness and light

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas
Darknesse Visible

Darknesse Visible

  • Gaspard de la nuit
  • Darknesse visible
  • Suite bergamasque
  • Fantasy on Peter Grimes
  • (La) Valse

This is an account of Gaspard to live with as much as for its technical assurance as for the unsettling atmosphere of unease and malevolence with which the Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan infuses all three movements. Ravel’s dynamic and agogic markings, so crucial to the success of the work, are meticulously observed; the opening pages of ‘Ondine’, where the hammer felts seem to just brush the strings, and the sinister repeated B flats of ‘Le gibet’ send a shiver up the spine. Does he characterise ‘Scarbo’ quite as vividly and with such lack of inhibition as Sergio Tiempo, Benjamin Grosvenor or Steven Osborne, to name three recent outstanding versions? Not quite.

Barnatan’s colouristic mastery is again on show in the disc’s eponymous 1992 piece by Thomas Adès. The title is a conflation of lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost – ‘Yet from those flames / No light, but rather darkness visible’ – and Dowland’s song ‘In darknesse let me dwell’, which Adès ‘explodes’ (the composer’s description) in haunting, shimmering slow motion. Barnatan adopts a rounder, warmer tone for a relaxed view of Suite bergamasque but strives, I think, too much for effect in ‘Claire de lune’.

Colour and atmosphere are again much to the fore in Ronald Stevenson’s compelling Fantasy on Peter Grimes but Barnatan cannot be acquainted with the composer’s matchless recording (APR, 2/06) which, at 7'00", is a whole two minutes faster than here, to far greater cohesive and dramatic effect. That said, Barnatan pulls out all the stops for La valse, with the final pages’ headlong rush into oblivion excitingly captured. Beautifully voiced piano, very well recorded.

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