Ravel: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit

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LABELS: New Albion
WORKS: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit
PERFORMER: Sarah Cahill (piano)
Ravel was a great orchestrator. Of this there is no question, but admiration for his virtuosic control of timbre often overlooks other innovations nevertheless present in his music. Few would deny the radicalism of Debussy, but the surface sheen in Ravel’s music precipitates a more equivocal response. This is due, in part, to the fact that many of Ravel’s techniques have become such an intrinsic part of the broader musical language, particularly in films, that they are now heard as clichés.


The novelty of Ravel’s music can often be best appreciated in his works for the piano, not least because his pieces were usually written for this instrument before being orchestrated. Both Sarah Cahill and Paul Crossley emphasise the experimentalist in Ravel. Cahill patently adores the music and has the profoundest knowledge of every note. This should be an advantage, but her apparent desire to point out the minutiae lest their charm be overlooked distracts from the broader picture. The problem is partly a matter of tempo. Love of every detail in a piece usually leads performers to take an unhurried approach, but Cahill wishes to be simultaneously brisk. Whereas the more sedate Crossley – whose 1983 complete-survey two-CD set has just been repackaged – allows the flexibility to admire the smallest turn of phrase without upsetting the overall structure, Cahill seems almost to have passed passages before remembering that she has something to say about them. Unlike Crossley she seems not to appreciate that the surface sheen was also itself an innovation. Christopher Dingle