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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la Nuit, 3 Poèmes pour Piano díaprès Aloysius Bertrand
Jeux díeaux
Sonatine
Miroirs
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Prélude
Sérénade grotesque
A la manière deÖ Borodine
A la manière deÖ Emmanuel Chabrier. Paraphrase sur un air de Gounod
Menuet antique
Menuet sur le nom de Haydn
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Pavane pour une infante défunte

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded Furstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, January 13-15, 17-18, 2003, DDD,
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 604 1190-2 [70:00+64:06]

 

Ravel was fastidious composer, slow, deliberate and painstaking about detail. Consequently his output is relatively small yet exceedingly high in craftsmanship and musical quality. It may surprise people to know that Ravelís total output for solo piano spans just over 130 minutes and the MDG label have accommodated the complete works on this double CD set played by the outstanding soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

Ravelís earliest piano works are dominated by impressionism and it is generally acknowledged that in 1901 Ravel composed the first ever impressionist work for piano with Jeux díeaux (Fountains). The work brought the composer considerable success and on this release piano soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet makes a fine job of portraying Ravelís images of the music and sounds of fountains, waterfalls and streams. The extended arpeggios pitted against dreamy harmonies are most convincing.

In 1899 Ravel composed his celebrated Pavane pour une infante défunte, which was conceived as a delicate and tender portrait of old Spain with a sensuous Debussian flow imposed on an old dance form. The Pavane remains Ravelís most popular composition especially in his 1910 orchestration. The sheer sound that Bavouzet draws from his Steinway D piano manufactured in 1901 is ravishing and a real highlight.

Composed in 1905, for a competition conducted by a music journal, the three movement Sonatine is acknowledged as one of Ravelís finest piano compositions. Bavouzet is particularly impressive in the surging passion of the first movement Modéré and the nervous exuberance of the Animé finale.

At nearly thirty minutes in duration Miroirs from 1905 is Ravelís largest piano work and also arguably his most daring as he entered a new phase of development. Bavouzet skilfully moves across to this freer and more varied style with more extended developments. Ravel uses five pieces which are designed to reflect their subjects, inspired by external images as mirrored in sound. For example in the second piece Oiseaux tristes the music is symbolic never attempting to imitate bird song. Soloist Bavouzet gives a most sensitive portrait of the extensive palette of colours in Ravelís musical description of the changing sea in Une barque sur líocéan. Bavouzetís delicate blend of irony and tone painting is impressive and compelling in the famous Alborada del gracioso.

Originally intended as a musical tribute to the harpsichord music of François Couperin-le-Grand the celebrated Le Tombeau de Couperin was Ravelís final work for solo piano. Composed between 1914 to 1917 Ravel was to dedicate this set of six pieces in honour of friends that had died in the Great War. Ravel was further affected by the death of his mother at this time yet there is no trace of pity or melancholy under the surface of the music. Essentially a neo-classical work Bavouzet in successful is performing the work with all the necessary seventeenth century economy and transparency and really communicates a sense of tranquillity in the spirit of a by-gone age.

In 1908 Ravel was inspired to compose three descriptive pieces for piano by the poems of Aloysius Bertrand under the collective title of Gaspard de la Nuit. In this fantasy world of gnomes, elves and ghosts the first piece of the trilogy Ondine reproduces the sound of water. Le Gibet is a musical portrait of the gallows and the final piece Scarbo is an ironic scherzo representing a will-o-the-wisp. Bavouzet makes light work of the technical demands and provides a spontaneous, almost improvisatory feel of harrowing immediacy.

Franz Schubertís piano waltzes were the inspiration behind Ravelís Valses nobles et sentimentales composed in 1911. The cycle consists of seven pieces which follow each other directly, with an additional epilogue. With bold harmonies Bavouzet impressively conveys the rhythms with the pulse and lilt of the Viennese waltzes.

Bavouzet is clearly in love with this music. He provides the perfect atmosphere and is consistently impressive in the several shorter works on this release; in particular the Sérénade grotesque and the Menuet antique.

There are several illustrious alternative versions in the catalogue of the complete piano works of Ravel which are all highly recommendable. Notably the sets from heavyweight artistes such as: Pascal Roge on Double Decca 440 836 2; Louis Lortie on Chandos CHAN 7004/7; Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Decca 433 515-2; Jean-Philippe Collard on EMI CES5 72376-2 and Angela Hewittís recent survey on Hyperion CDA 67341/2. I have no hesitation in stating that Jean-Efflam Bavouzetís masterly interpretations on MDG can stand equally alongside the very best of these distinguished versions. Bavouzet plays with such remarkable authority, expressive strength and unadulterated brilliance. The soloistís phrasing seems to transcend beyond Ravelís markings on the page and allows the musical line to breathe in a natural, almost conversational way.

Assisted by the splendid sound quality provided by MDGís natural acoustics and the comprehensive booklet notes, this recording challenges the best around. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is one of Franceís best kept secrets. In fact Bavouzetís playing is restricted to a most narrow range; wonderful to superb.

Michael Cookson

 



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