Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales; Gaspard de la nuit; Sonatine; Miroirs; Le tombeau de Couperin

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Bayer
WORKS: Valses nobles et sentimentales; Gaspard de la nuit; Sonatine; Miroirs; Le tombeau de Couperin
PERFORMER: Heidi Lowy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BR 100 344-45 (distr. Codaex)
Ravel’s piano works separate themselves into two different worlds – the Classical purity of the Sonatine and Le tombeau de Couperin, and the elaborate pictorialism of Miroirs and Gaspard de la nuit. Yet it’s possible to play the ‘Classical’ works in a warm, relaxed way that brings them closer to the second category, as does Cécile Licad, persuasively, on MusicMasters. By contrast, Angela Hewitt’s no-nonsense approach to Le tombeau and the Sonatine seems less rewarding. Hewitt really comes into her own with Miroirs and Gaspard, whose every demand she fulfils, powerful, transparent, if a bit chilly.

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Offering the same menu, though without the very early Sérénade grotesque, the American pianist Heidi Lowy is no match for Hewitt. Lowy is reluctant to play anything just as written, and sometimes it’s obvious that she labours a point because of technical limitations, as at the end of the Toccata in Le tombeau, or with the repeated notes in ‘Alborada del gracioso’ (Miroirs). In ‘Ondine’ (Gaspard), Lowy seems overwhelmed by the sheer number of notes – I got no picture here – and soon runs out of steam in ‘Scarbo’. But she orchestrates ‘Le gibet’ sensitively, and she’s not wanting when it comes to tonal shading or variety of touch, though she stabs painfully at the Rigaudon in Le tombeau. What is lacking is naturalness and clarity of utterance; several pieces are marred by an irritating twitchiness, unnecessary rhythmic bending and added pauses. It’s probably significant that the performance I like best is of the work I like least – Valses nobles et sentimentales – which she makes almost frivolously capricious. Adrian Jack