RAVEL Piano Concertos FALLA Noches en los jardines de España
Martha Argerich’s Ravel G major was for so long a reference recording that it’s easy to forget how idiosyncratic it actually is. I wouldn’t actually blame anyone who found it too garish in its colouring, with its volatility giving diminishing returns and its rubato too predictably appassionato for a sensibility as dapper as Ravel’s. Such a person might well find exactly what they want in Steven Osborne’s account, which is masterful in its own way but essentially self-effacing.
Where is the dividing line between understatement and lack of character? Nowhere objective, to be sure. But the question is provoked by an opening movement in which the piano solos are so modestly inflected and the shadings so pastel-pale as to give an impression of standoffishness. The slow movement is again undeniably fluent and unfussy, but with a certain samey-ness in the sound that doesn’t hold the attention – or not mine, anyway. Whatever the performance may lack, it’s certainly not dash and agility, as the spick-and-span Presto finale shows in abundance. But once you turn to Aimard or Lortie, for example, you hear exactly how the Ravel idiom need not be compromised by stronger soloistic presence and a broader range of touch and colour.
It was perhaps unfortunate that I listened to the Left-Hand Concerto only days after an electrifying live account from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet at the Bridgewater Hall. By comparison the new recording feels studio-bound, with insufficient tension, imagination and daredevilry. To be sure, sensitive touches abound in Osborne’s playing, but the rhetorical projection is again insufficient to seize or hold the attention.
The Falla I enjoyed rather more, perhaps partly through having fewer invidious comparisons in mind. Even so, I wouldn’t say that atmosphere is its strongest point, and I have to confess that time dragged a little, especially in the outer movements, mainly because the contours are never sufficiently sharply profiled.
I do wonder whether the recording quality shouldn’t shoulder some of the blame. Throughout the disc the sound lacks spaciousness, bloom and blend, while orchestral fortissimos need more depth of string tone and tend to sound congested and blaring.