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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) [17:39]
Miroirs (1905) [39:27]
Pavane pour une enfante défunte (1899) [7:19]
Sonatine (1905) [12:41]
Emile NAOUMOFF (b. 1962)
Improvisation (2017) [2:50]
Elile Naoumoff (piano)
rec. 2017, Paris
MELISM MLSCD010 [74:00]

The Bulgarian composer and pianist Emile Naoumoff has developed a strong association with France, and with Paris in particular. He came to prominence as a child prodigy, and was taken under the wing of Nadia Boulanger, no less. Moreover, when he was only ten, his Piano Concerto was performed there under the baton of Yehudi Menuhin.

This Ravel programme is preceded by the short Improvisation which Naoumoff contributed at the time of the recording sessions in July 2017. This finely crafted and thoughtful composition sits well with the works of the illustrious companion composer, and is sensitive to the French style of expression. It is rewarding that the score of the Improvisation is included in the thoughtfully planned and well designed booklet. Its presentation that does much credit to Melism.

This, however, is essentially a Ravel recital, and a fine programme it is too, beginning with the Valses nobles et sentimentales, which Naoumoff delivers with panache and no little sensitivity, as the work’s title demands. An interesting and unusual touch is that the front page of the booklet includes the different tempo markings for the various sections of the piece, although the individual timings are not provided since the music flows continuously.

The collection known as Miroirs is more often heard in performances which take the constituent movements separately. On the other hand, it is invariably complete on recordings. As Naumoff’s brilliant performance shows, the music does work supremely well that way, and makes a well considered and balanced sequence. The work taken as a whole ranges across Ravel’s expressive and technical musical language, from the inward and delicate atmospheres of Noctuelles and Oiseaux tristes to the powerful virtuosity of its best known movement, the Alborada del gracioso. Another nice touch in the booklet programme listing is notable here (and throughout): it identifies the dedicatee of each item.

The Pavane pour une enfante défunte is perhaps the best known of the works here, and there is no doubting the sensitivity of this performance. The chosen tempo seems particularly slow, recalling Ravel’s own observation that a pianist needs to remember that ‘it is the princess who is dead, not the Pavane’.

The Sonatine is a closely organised piece, a characteristic which is emphasised in this thoughtfully drawn performance. For example, the way that Naoumoff emphasises the nature of the second theme of the finale is wonderfully effective, since it is a rhythmic transformation of the idea with which the whole work began.

Terry Barfoot

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