Ravel: Piano works (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano works (complete)
PERFORMER: Angela Hewitt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67341-42
Angela Hewitt has, of course, become most familiar to record-buyers for her fabulous Bach-playing. Yet the most successful works in this often rewarding set are not Ravel’s Baroque pastiche works, but the ‘big stuff’, notably Gaspard de la nuit and Miroirs, along with Jeux d’eau, which is a model of delicate fluidity.

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Unfortunately, some other pieces suffer from a certain sense of over-deliberation, with a tread that is a little too measured. The Pavane pour une infante défunte is a case in point, and in Le tombeau de Couperin it is the virtuoso torrents of the Toccata that fare best. A little frustratingly, Hewitt can create true magic when she wants to. For instance, in the Sonatine’s Menuet the passages in contrasted keys shine out briefly with a glorious other-worldliness, yet the rest sounds strangely prosaic. A further quibble is that the piano itself sounds weak and woody in the uppermost treble; top lines are sometimes swamped by the richer middle and bass registers. But where the music overtly seeks rhapsody, Hewitt really goes for it, especially in Gaspard: her ‘Ondine’ is both poetic and exquisitely controlled, and ‘Scarbo’ is deliciously naughty and subtly sinister. Highlights of Miroirs include beautiful layering of sound in ‘La vallée des cloches’ and the lonely, distant ‘Oiseaux tristes’. All of these are paced superbly and with great intelligence.

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However, my benchmark for the Sonatine and Gaspard – Martha Argerich live at the Concertgebouw – still wins. Perhaps this would be an unfair comparison for everyone, but Argerich feasts on the electrifying abandon that Hewitt does not always permit herself. Jessica Duchen