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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Music for 2 Pianos
Introduction and Allegro
Rapsodie Espagnole
Entre cloches
Ma mère l'oye
Overture: Shéhérazade
Frontispice*
La Valse

Jennifer Micallef, Glen Inanga (pianos)
*with Christian Sterling (piano)
Recorded 10-11 July 2000, Potton Hall, Suffolk
SOMM SOMMCD 025 [66.30]


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Among the many remarkable things about the music of Ravel is how readily so many of his compositions successfully exist in two versions, for piano and for orchestra. And of course he also wrote one of the great orchestral transcriptions when he gave a new identity to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

The present collection of music is brilliantly performed by two talented young pianists, Jennifer Micallef and Glen Inanga. They are at their best when a brittle and exciting rhythmic texture is required, in which sense the Laideronette, impératrice des pagodes movement of Mother Goose is a highlight. This oriental pastiche is played with tight ensemble and brilliant dexterity.

It is in the slower music that doubts appear, in Mother Goose and elsewhere. For the languorous rhythms that so often bring Ravel's special brand of tenderness are sometimes matter-of-fact, the phrasing under-characterised. The basic shaping of Petit Poucet is a case in point, for they are less languorous than the music really needs. Admittedly this is easier to achieve in the orchestral version's string lines than with the more brittle sound of pianos, but it remains true.

Mother Goose was originally conceived by Ravel in this format, whereas much of the remainder of the programme is best known in orchestral versions. Accordingly there are some rarities on offer here, such as the two-pianos version of the Introduction and Allegro, which Ravel made in 1907, one player taking the harp part while the other has a transcription of the remaining instruments. This version is hardly known, and I did not find it particularly pleasing, since the lines sounded unduly abrupt, the textures lacking in subtlety as compared with the original, which uses harp with flute, clarinet and string quartet.

The Rapsodie Espagnole is supremely atmospheric in its orchestral version, and is scored for a large ensemble too. This is the original version, so the notes claim, but aside from the Habanera the music again seems prosaic. The arrangement of a later masterpiece, La Valse, is rather more successful, building to a really exciting climax which is powerful indeed. The partnership is heard to fine effect here.

The Somm recording gives accurate and atmospheric sound, not always easy to achieve with this instrumental combination. And the booklet is informative and nicely designed, as with other issues from this label.



Terry Barfoot


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