Compared: Erard and Steinway
As a document of the characteristics of Erard and Steinway pianos and their relevance to Ravel’s piano works, this set has much to recommend it. The composer’s preference for the rather dry, stringy tone of the Erard is well documented (his own is still in his house in Montfort-l’Amaury – if you ask the charming gardienne politely, she will probably let you try playing it). It points to his general liking for clarity. There are moments here when the rounded, voluptuous tone of the Steinway comes off second best. The most notable of these are the passages of repeated notes, at the start of both ‘Scarbo’ from Gaspard and the ‘Toccata’ from Le tombeau de Couperin, to which the Erard, under Paolo Giacometti’s agile fingers, lends an urgent air and in ‘Scarbo’ sounds decidedly sinister.
As for Giacometti’s interpretations, the harder the pieces, the better he is. Gaspard de la nuit is terrific throughout; the ‘Toccata’ of Le tombeau also. But once Giacometti has, as it were, time to think, matters deteriorate. The dances in Le tombeau suffer worst, with self-indulgent rubatos, hesitations and extended rests. The ‘Forlane’, at a lugubrious tempo, is frankly a travesty (not a term I use lightly). The disrespect to Ravel is hard to bear for those of us who not only love his music but admire its craftsmanship and the unceasing effort he put towards not being thus misrepresented.