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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Etudes-tableaux (1911-16): Op. 39 – No. 1 in C minor [3’12]; No. 2 in A minor [7’08]; Op. 33 – No. 2 in C minor [2’25]; No. 6 in E flat minor [1’46]; No. 9 in C sharp minor [3’00].
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Sonatine (1903-5) [11’16]. Miroirs (1904-5) [28’28].
Lise de la Salle (piano)
Rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland, in September 2002. DDD
NAÏVE V4936 [57’12]

Lise de la Salle was born in 1988. To be accorded the privilege of such a high-profile release on a major label is no small matter. A glowing endorsement by Geneviève Joy-Dutilleux included in the booklet raises expectations to a very high level. De la Salle does not disappoint.

In this world of prodigy and super-virtuoso, mention of the name Rachmaninov sets alarm bells ringing. But any doubts harboured were effectively banished by Op. 39 No. 1, the first track on the disc. The stormy opening conveys all the requisite passion, yet with an underlying clarity that eludes many more famous names. Climaxes are notable for their contained ecstasy, and the whole is underpinned by a superb recording.

De la Salle seems intent on highlighting Ravelian tendencies in Rachmaninov, an interesting take that yields rich rewards. Op. 39 No. 2 comes across as freely improvisatory, yet with an attendant feeling of gentle inevitability. Again, any inherent Frenchness of Op. 33 No. 6 is made clear. Starting à la Ravel, it soon becomes Rachmaninov’s equivalent to Debussy’s Feux d’artifice. The effect is not to demean or to de-individualise Rachmaninov, however; more to introduce a particular slant to the musical text which is further emphasised by de la Salle’s refusal to be over-indulgent (Op. 33 No. 2 furnished a fine example of this).

On home turf in Ravel, de la Salle is, if anything, even more impressive. The delicate Sonatine is possessed of real tendresse (even if inner voices can on occasion be just that touch too pronounced). The toccata-touch de la Salle employs in the finale works perfectly and her legato is equally fine. She almost achieves the ecstasy of the close, but alas just misses.

The five movements of Miroirs (Noctuelles; Oiseaux tristes; Une barque sur l’Océan; Alborada del gracioso; La vallée des cloches) also reveal an artist of no mean stature. De la Salle captures the vaporous, elusive nature of ‘Noctuelles’ well and is not afraid of the sad stasis of ‘Oiseaux tristes’, displaying a maturity beyond her years. If the Spanish colours of ‘Alborada del gracioso’ could have been painted in more vivid colours, it is ‘Une barque sur l’Océan’ that provides the real highpoint of this disc. Here all seems to slot naturally in place, so that de la Salle’s delicacy can work naturally towards the climactic points. Details and overview meet in a vision of loveliness. As in the case of her Rachmaninov, indulgence is avoided, lending more, not less, emotive weight to the cascades of sound.

This is a superb disc that should be heard without delay. It is to be hoped that Miss de la Salle will grace the UK with her presence shortly. To learn more about this artist, her website is at http://lise.delasalle.online.fr/bioen.htm.

Colin Clarke



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