Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit; Valses nobles et sentimentales; Sonatine

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Gaspard de la nuit; Valses nobles et sentimentales; Sonatine
PERFORMER: Anne Queffélec (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 7 59322 2 DDD
Here are the second halves of two opposite cycles. Queffélec, expansive and warm, gives a large role to melody, but the playing rests on a fine ear for Ravel’s amazing sense of where the harmony is going. So much does she enjoy drawing out the SonatineMinuet that it stops early and has to start up again; but she makes such a glorious arch of the ensuing phrase that you quite accept it within an otherwise unusually robust Sonatine.

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The epilogue of the Valses nobles et sentimentales grows beyond nostalgia into quiet, intense grandeur: a devastating performance in the tradition of the great French pianists. In Gaspard de la nuit, the melodic line, the tolling bell and the menacing chords of ‘Le gibet’ proceed inexorably on their separate planes. ‘Scarbo’ starts with the best recorded shudder for years, and moves up a gear with a driving left-hand pulse and a steady build-up of dynamics that doesn’t have to resort to brute force to show the climax has arrived. There is more clarity and excitement here than with speedier, flashier pianists.

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Fergus-Thompson sounds sparkier and freer at first, with a gentler flow of tone and more space in the recording. Not long into Miroirs the constant nudging at pace and phrasing begins to get in the way – sometimes jerky and nervous, sometimes indulgent and soft-focused. There’s no problem, at least, about brilliance of effect. The finale of the Sonatine finds more vigour and purpose, and some of the minor pieces have an attractive light touch. As usual it partly comes down to how you like your eggs boiled, but for my palate Queffélec’s is the favourite Ravel cycle from the present generation of pianists. Robert Maycock