Ravel: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit; La valse (arr. Himy)

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Ivory
WORKS: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit; La valse (arr. Himy)
PERFORMER: Eric Himy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-72009
If you want Ravel’s two big piano cycles, Miroirs and Gaspard de la nuit, on one disc, I have no hesitation in recommending this. The last pianist to conquer the Everest of Gaspard was Naida Cole in a mixed recital of French music, and if it’s technical perfection you prize, she is actually more precise, less Impressionistic, than Martha Argerich. Himy is less cleanly recorded than Cole, and there’s neither a real triple forte in ‘Scarbo’ nor a double forte in ‘Ondine’. Whether Himy or an engineer is to blame is not clear, but the pianist is wonderfully stylish, and particularly good at filigree, melting sonorities and all those shadowy, spooky bits in ‘Scarbo’ – just listen to his disappearing act at the end. As for Miroirs, I have never heard the five pieces done better. The echo effects in ‘Oiseaux tristes’ are what you dream of, and the liquid quality of ‘Une barque sur l’océan’ invites you to listen over and over again. Even the passages of single-line melody in ‘Alborada’ have an indescribably exotic atmosphere in Himy’s subtle moulding. ‘La vallée des cloches’, again remarkable for the control of echo effects, is both haunting and sad.

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Instead of Ravel’s own transcription of La valse, Himy offers his own – a dazzling piece of work which sounds impossible for two hands to manage. His do so without evident strain, though oddly enough the atmospheric misty bits and swirls come off better than the leaner, more explicit dance music, which, surely, could have had more bounce. Adrian Jack