Ravel Piano Concertos

Boulez and Aimard bring their extensive experience to Ravel’s piano works

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Ravel Piano Concertos

There are surely few conductors alive who can bring Ravel’s miraculous, deft orchestral colours to life with such lucidity and suppleness as Boulez. His recording of the D major Concerto with Zimerman (same orchestra, same label, 2/99) was a Gramophone Award winner. Aimard, too, is a pianist completely immersed in the French repertoire of the 20th century and attuned to Ravel’s particular sound world. The Left Hand Concerto is a triumph from its sinister opening (no pun intended) to its all-conquering apotheosis. Surprisingly, perhaps, the G major Concerto is a disappointment in comparison – not in terms of musical sensitivity (the slow movement is beautifully realised) nor in its acute attention to detail, but of being truly inspired. This is the Ravel of two “intellectual” musicians who entirely eschew the important fun element in the score and refuse to make the music smile, pace the excellent woodwind soloists. Though billed as a live performance (there is no evidence of an audience), it’s polite, emotionally reserved and sounds like a studio recording (try the last movement). The sound picture for both concertos has real depth and resonance.

Aimard has the rest of the disc to himself with Miroirs, Ravel’s suite of five short tone-poems composed nearly three decades earlier than the concertos. One can almost see the bow wave of the “barque” as it skims along “sur l’océan” while the teeming difficulties of “Alborada del gracioso” are handled with a beguiling insouciance. Atmospheric “reflections” indeed, on a par with those other superb Miroirs colourists, Lortie (Chandos, 10/89) and Bavouzet (MDG).

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