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Manfred Reuthe - Klaviermusik
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974) Saudades do Brasil – Suite de Danses
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) Eight Preludes
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Le Tombeau de Couperin
Manfred Reuthe (piano)
No details on venue or recording dates DDD
BELLA MUSICA BM 31.2391 [76.51]

Manfred Reuthe’s recital of 20th century piano music is an interesting selection starting with the relatively well-known Milhaud and early Messiaen; concluding with Ravel’s popular epitaph for the First World War, and for his mother, Le Tombeau de Couperin. However, he lacks the lightness of touch to give the rhythmic vivacity and ethereal atmosphere required by these impressionistic pieces.

Whilst many European composers were looking east for a taste of exoticism, and to the past for their models of music (neo-classicism), Milhaud went west, and south, and spent the years of the First World War in Brazil. His piano suite, also made into an orchestral version, Saudades do Brazil has twelve movements, all named after districts in Rio de Janeiro. The excellent sleeve notes suggest that Milhaud’s work:

‘Though based on European traditions… is far from being imitative – it is truly innovatory as it vitalizes the traditions of the Old World by adding new imagination and sensuousness.’

Like Ravel, Milhaud used dance forms as a starting point. However, he didn’t draw upon Brazilian folk music, just the rhythms. Overall he gives an impression of Brazil but, in these performances at least, is little more than a picture postcard – a feeling intensified by the brevity of the dances.

The limits of Reuthe’s technique is apparent in the Prelude to Ravel’s suite where, although the notes seem to be all there, they are rushed to a mush and the ethereal magic of Ravel’s music is lost. Similarly, in the following movement, the rhythm seems to clutter the notes rather than create flow. This doesn’t seem to be helped by the recording that makes the piano sound quite harsh in the upper registers. The finale, the Toccata, is disjointed though the Minuet has some poetry.

The Messiaen, early pieces from 1928-29 when he was studying with Dukas, are obviously indebted to Debussy, and offer an interesting contrast to Messiaen’s later ‘birdsong’ works (the first prelude is called ‘The Dove’). Like Debussy’s Preludes, they require a pianist to play more than the notes to capture the special sonorities and impressionistic atmosphere. For me Reuthe doesn’t manage this ‘trick’.

Overall, on paper an interesting recital that doesn’t catch ‘fire’ and can only be recommended for those looking for this particular combination of works on one disc.

Nick Lacey

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