Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Complete Works for Piano Duet
CD 1 (all two pianos)
Introduction and Allegro (1905) [11:03]
Rapsodie espagnole (1907) [15:39]
Entre Cloches (1897) [3:42]
Boléro (1928) [14:36]
Ma Mère l’Oye. piano duet (1910) [15:56]
Fanfare, piano duet (1927) [1:15]
Ouverture de Shéhérazade, piano duet (1889) [12:41]
Frontispièce, two pianos, five hands (with David Gardiner)
La Valse, two pianos (1920) [11:40]
Ingryd Thorson, Julian Thurber (piano duo)
rec. Varde Gymnasium, Denmark, June 1987
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94176 [45:00 + 43:36]
Maurice Ravel’s father was an engineer and an amateur pianist.
He strongly encouraged his son’s early musical inclinations.
It was likely with his father that he first learned to play
and enjoy works for four hands. That pleasure blossomed in his
mid-teens when he met Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943), also a piano
student, and the two explored all the duo piano literature they
could find. Ravel clearly loved the format from a very early
Ravel composed at the piano and so it’s understandable that
every one of his orchestral works, with one exception, appeared
in a piano version first. That exception was Boléro,
a late work that Ravel described, no doubt tongue-in-cheek,
as “a masterpiece … without any music in it”. Ida Rubenstein
had asked Ravel for a ballet score in 1928, and his plan was
to orchestrate part of Albéniz’s Iberia. But there were
problems with copyright, so Ravel created something new and
experimental, a pairing of two 16-bar phrases repeated nine
times without any increase in tempo. The subsequent piano version
concludes the first of these two discs, and is a revelation
to the casual Ravel fan.
There are other ear-openers in this set. The Introduction
and Allegro and La Valse are both intriguing in their
piano duo versions. We are familiar with the former as a piece
for string quartet, harp, clarinet and flute, and with the latter
in its orchestral version, probably as close as Ravel got to
writing a symphony. And there are lesser known gems as well.
A piece called Entre Cloches gives the listener a sense
of standing between two bells, experiencing the resulting contrasts
in rhythm and tone. The pianists who premiered it could not
deal with the deliberately misplaced beats. Frontispièce
is for piano five hands, and is the only work Ravel wrote in
the three years immediately following the death in 1917 of his
mother to whom he was very close. It reveals an apparent confusion,
with an undefined structure, very unlike all the rest of his
work. Stravinsky’s description of Ravel as a “Swiss watchmaker”,
though intended as an insult, contains some truth.
Ma Mère L’Oye is Ravel’s perfect evocation of the poetry
of childhood. Rhapsodie Espagnole was written at the
beginning of what might be called his Spanish period. Even though
his mother was Spanish-Basque, Ravel didn’t actually visit the
country until he was 49. Nevertheless Falla described his Spanish
music as “subtly genuine”.
The notes accompanying this set say nothing about the performers
other than their names, but their web-site
describes them as a British-born husband and wife team who first
partnered as students at the Royal College of Music, London,
then went separate ways, only to join permanently in 1976. They
now live in Denmark and record there for Paula Records. Their
first recording, of Rachmaninov’s complete works for two pianos
and four hands, earned eminent praise from one magazine.
This is their second recording, made in 1987 (Producer and Engineer
Karin Jurgensen) and licensed to Brilliant Classics in 2011.
The playing is clear and crisp except in the very loud passages
when the sound becomes a bit muddy – likely due to the recording.
The notes were written by Ingryd Thorson, and provide brief
but excellent background. All-in-all this is a set worth having,
especially for those interested in how Ravel, the master orchestrator,
moved among instrumentations.