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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Music Volume 2

Valses nobles et sentimentales [14’56]
Le Tombeau de Couperin [26’30]
La Valse [11’53]
A la manière de Borodine [1’46]
A la manière de Chabrier [1’33]
Menuet antique [7’41]
Sérénade grotesque [3’48]
Valerie Tryon (piano)
Rec. St.George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, Sept. 2000, May 2001, May 2002, DDD
APR 5594 [68’57]

This is volume 2 of a two-disc survey by Valerie Tryon of all Ravel’s solo piano music. As such it enters a very crowded field, with formidable competition from Paul Crossley, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Anne Queffelec, Louis Lortie and, most recently Angela Hewitt. I suppose this list points up the two basic ways of approaching this music; one can be coolly poised, clean-textured and bring out the classical proportions underlining many of these works (as with Hewitt and Crossley) or one can adopt an overtly theatrical style, bringing out the colour and sheer Lisztian drama that is also there (as very much with Thibaudet and Lortie).

Tryon’s playing, on the whole, has a cultured, refined feel that puts it in the first camp, and as most of the pieces on this second disc respond to this approach, there is little to complain about. The Valses Nobles are very nicely characterised, with charm, polish and wit in equal measure. Her fairly steady tempi mean that some of the wild abandon that makes Thibaudet’s account so exciting, is missing. But this is only a minus point in certain waltzes and Tryon clearly sees the bigger picture, with a cumulative tension building that has its own rewards.

Likewise Le Tombeau de Couperin is better in some sections than others, but never less than extremely musical. The opening prelude, marked vif, misses the last ounce of glitter and sparkle that others bring, but the fugue and famous menuet have a beautifully balanced weight of touch that is entirely idiomatic. The ‘clockwork’ atmosphere of many of the phrases is well judged, and I like the way the pedal is used, very discreetly and in accord with her general approach. The short character pieces benefit also from this sort of cool restraint, with only the delicious little Menuet antique possibly needing a touch more light and shade (Hewitt is matchless here).

La Valse lacks the sort of menace and volcanic edge that suits Thibaudet to perfection, but what Tryon’s performance lacks in virtuosic swagger it more than makes up for in subtlety and deft individual touches. The engineers beautifully capture the piano tone, and the slightly close balance simply reinforces Tryon’s intimate brand of pianism. The booklet notes contain nothing directly about Ravel or the music, instead giving us an in-depth interview with the artist, whose views are fully borne out by her playing. It would be interesting to hear how she copes with the greater physical demands of pieces like Jeux d’eau or Gaspard on volume 1, but for now this will do very nicely.

Tony Haywood

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