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Michael Brown (piano) (FHR)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0
FHR Noctuelles

Medtner: Improvisation No. 2, Op. 47; Ravel: Miroirs
Michael Brown (piano)
First Hand Records FHR 78   61:49 mins


Michael Brown’s magical concept and execution incline me to purple prose here, but Ravel’s choice of a line and a half from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as epigraph for the five pieces that comprise Miroirs will partly do the job: ‘…the eye sees not itself/But by reflection, by some other things.’ Sound, space and silence are inexplicably linked both in the unique impressions of 1905 and in Medtner’s Second Improvisation composed in the mid-1920s, more in the mainstream of virtuoso piano writing but equally responsive to the supernatural (it would perhaps be more often performed if it were called ‘Variations on a Water Nymph’s Song’).

It’s a truism to declare that Ravel was a master of exquisite new sonorities, but how many pianists realise the luminosity and the quietest dynamics as well as Brown? Melodic fragments are always subtly highlighted; grouping the work in two pairs followed by a numinously majestic epilogue, the pianist makes ‘The Valley of the Bells’ a spellbinding highlight, resonating in mid-air.

Medtner’s more capricious cascades in his typically personal journey through myths and legends, occasionally unfurling in post-Lisztian grandiosity, are enriched by two more variations found in the manuscript and added to the existing 15, with no loss of shape and a further extension of variety. The engineered sound, captured in Montana’s Tippet Rise Arts Center with two other outstanding pianists, Roman Rabinovich and Adam Golka, as producers, plays its part in a treasurable diptych. The title, Noctuelles, also that of Ravel’s first piece and a rare French word for ‘moths’, is complemented by the glowing presentation.

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David Nice