Ravel Piano Works
They don’t come stranger than this. Anyone who knows Cecile Licad’s early CBS recording of, say, Saint-Saens’s Second Concerto (1/85 – nla) will know what a scintillating and engaging pianist she can be, but here, in Ravel, she is sadly miscast.
Indeed, an air of desperation hangs over performances so determinedly ‘different’, so disinclined to leave well alone or allow the composer his own voice. Ravel’s doux et expressif at the start of the Sonatine prompts only the most cloying rubato, and how can the second movement mouvement de menuet be recorded with a rhythmic instability that suggests inebriated dancers tentatively feeling their way forward in the dark? The finale, too, is a wild and confused chase, technically choppy, stylistically all over the place. Less reprehensibly but no less to the point, why edge into the opening figure of “Ondine” (from Gaspard) and destroy all sense of chilling immediacy? Licad’s blaze at the climax is surely Lisztian and unstylish and so too is her relentless desynchronization and expressive dalliance throughout “Le gibet”. Here, hardly a phrase or bar is allowed to tell its own desolating tale. The opening Prelude from Le tombeau de Couperin emerges through an alien pedal haze (only initially attractive) and Licad’s brisk dismissal of the Forlane could hardly be considered piquant or allegretto as marked. The Toccata is truly vif and alive with an acidic brilliance, yet even here the performance is never entirely free of overemphasis and exaggeration.
While I dislike literal, strait-laced Ravel, Licad surely stretches idiosyncrasy to eccentric lengths; Ravel would surely have thrown up his hands in despair at such wilfulness. The recordings are impressive but the accompanying notes, with their passing references to