Bertrand Chamayou performs Ravel's complete works for solo piano
It is sometimes said that, unlike his compatriot Debussy, Ravel’s music simply requires fidelity to his meticulous scores. In fact, with pieces as varied as the dark impressionism of Gaspard de la nuit and the more brightly lit lines of the Sonatine, any such generalisations are dangerous, and the challenges for any pianist in tackling a complete survey of Ravel’s diverse approaches to piano writing are especially tough.
Steeped in the French piano tradition and with formidable facility, Bertrand Chamayou is certainly not tripped up by the finger-bending virtuosity of Miroirs or Gaspard, while conveying the cut-glass elegance of Ravel’s nods to the past. Every filigree flutter in the ‘Forlane’ from Le tombeau de Couperin is placed with precision, every rippling detail in Jeux d’eau can be heard. Finishing the set with Alexander Siloti’s transcription of Kaddish is distinctive, and the inclusion of Casella’s A la manière de Ravel is a nice touch. There are also some truly remarkable moments, from the nuanced colours Chamayou finds in Valses nobles et sentimentales to the extraordinary ungodly rumbling in ‘Scarbo’.
And yet, for all the remarkable talent and attention to detail, it is hard to warm to much of Chamayou’s playing. In his hands Une barque sur l’océan has plenty of spray, but no seafaring exhilaration, ‘Le gibet’ (Gaspard) is dispassionate rather than desolate and there is too little charm behind the cool reserve of Le tombeau de Couperin.
Chamayou does an exceptional job of conveying Ravel’s score, but other pianists, such as Jean-Yves Thibaudet or Steven Osborne, do this and much more.