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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane: Rapsodie de concert for violin and piano (1924) [10.34]
Sonate pour violon et piano no.2 en sol majeur (1923-27) [18:18]
Pièce en forme de Habanera (1907) [3:20]
Deux Mélodies hébraïques (1914-19) [7:07]
Sonate pour violon et violoncello (1920-22) [22:57]
Kristian Winther (violin); Anthony Romaniuk (piano); Michelle Wood (cello)
rec. 7-8 March 2007, Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank, Melbourne.
MELBA MR301115 [62:31]
Experience Classicsonline

There is so much more to Ravel than the Boléro, and this is one of those discs which emphatically proves the point. This is also a showcase for young Australian violinist Kristian Winther, who was born in Canberra in 1984. These are all performances of the utmost maturity and finest of technical standards, so there is no compromise to be found in this aspect of the recording. The other musicians are of the same generation, with cellist Michelle Wood being a member of the same TinAlley ensemble which Kristian Winther lead to an award-winning performance at the 2007 Banff International String Quartet Competition. I’ve known pianist Anthony Romaniuk as a student of fortepiano and harpsichord at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, but had no idea he was also such a fine modern pianist.

None of the pieces in this programme are particularly rare on record, but it is nice to have them collected on a single disc. Tzigane sometimes appears more as a kind of encore, but here it opens the collection with fine gypsy bravado. Winther digs deep in the opening cadenza, giving the music a fine, soulful character. The musicians sound a bit cautious in tempo when the main theme kicks in at 5 minutes in, but the music builds convincingly and there are plenty of fireworks. Comparing a famous alternative, I found myself almost preferring this to the recording with Gil Shaham and Gerhard Oppitz on their 1990 Deutsche Grammophon release. Technical honours are about even, and though Shaham digs a bit deeper I find his opening solo more fragmentary. Oppitz’s trills are more technically assured and his overall approach grander and more orchestra. There is more flight and an edge of the seat risk feel which the Melba performers don’t quite achieve, but theirs is still a magnificent rendering.

Moving on, the Sonata for Violin and Piano has a beautiful transparency of texture, and an atmosphere of poise and refinement in the opening Allegretto which is quite luminous with these two players. The jazz quality of the Blues which follows comes as a surprise, such is the idiomatic swagger with which the musicians convey Ravel’s exploration of musical crossover. Proto-minimalist tendencies infect the final Perpetuum Mobile, and the sense of joy in the music leaps out from the playing on this recording.

Pièce en forme de Habanera was originally written for voice, and Kristian Winther certainly brings out a vocal character in his playing, sliding up to notes and giving the music a pleasant ‘parlando’ quality. The ability to infuse the notes with character is also immediately apparent in the doleful timbres in the first ‘Kaddisch’ of the Deux Mélodies hébraïques. Hazy, muted tones give also give a dark colour to the second of these two pieces, L’Énigme éternelle. Elongate the tempo of this by about 60% and I bet most listeners would think it was by Messiaen.

The last piece in this programme is the magnificently searching Sonata for Violin and Cello. Revelling in the apparent restrictions of this duo medium, Ravel falls back on purer musical ideas rather than his often rather eclectic array of sources. Playing of remarkable intelligence make this performance something a bit special, done as it is by two players who know each other’s music making well enough through the intensity of working in a string quartet. The second Trés vif movement has tremendous impact, wildness emerging from pizzicati both punchy and delicate. That quiet section the coda is filled with mystery and longing, but all illusions are destroyed by the final, brutal cadence gesture - a character rarely seen in Ravel and played with chilling violence here. Exploration of some strange, indefinable emotion brings the Lent through its enigmatic climax and beyond. Technical virtuosity in both the writing and the playing invite more superlatives for the final Vif. Unexpectedly, this piece is if anything more than a hit than the pieces with piano, and is in any case by no means a mere filler.

Recorded in a pleasantly resonant acoustic, produced to the Melba label’s high packaging standards and given an orange glow like antipodean sunlight, this is a SACD disc to treasure. The surround effects provide plenty of extra detail and a rewardingly realistic sense of space, but the recording works equally well in stereo, losing only in spatial definition while maintaining full detail and dynamic thrust. I’ve been more than impressed by the performances on this disc. Being impressed is one thing, knowing you’ll want to hear and discover more on repeated listening is another, and this is one disc I can see myself taking on holiday somewhere.

Dominy Clements


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