Ravel: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Prélude

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Koch Schwann Musica Mundi
WORKS: Miroirs; Gaspard de la nuit; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Prélude
PERFORMER: Michael Rische (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6744-2
Miroirs and Gaspard de la nuit are the two big virtuoso piano cycles from the middle years of Ravel’s career. He announced that the five pieces of Miroirs showed a new style of harmony, while in Gaspard he deliberately set out to write something even more difficult than Balakirev’s Islamey.

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Miroirs is not Impressionist in the sense of paintings by Monet, but it is pictorial in evoking nature and atmosphere, which it does with highly intricate piano-writing. The exception is the fourth piece, ‘Alborada del gracioso’, which is one of Ravel’s Spanish essays and a study in gesture and mannerism.

Alas, Michael Rische doesn’t seem to understand this at all, and plays with a sort of breathless efficiency while completely missing the swagger. In the atmospheric pieces like ‘Noctuelles’ and ‘Oiseaux tristes’, he merely plays notes, without any feeling for what they suggest.

He is hardly helped by the hard piano sound on this recording, and in loud passages it often seems as if the engineer has turned down the volume. Ravel’s frequent markings of triple piano, on the other hand, turn out a good deal louder.

Still, the central piece of Gaspard, portraying a gibbet in a bleak landscape, isn’t bad, although ‘Ondine’, before it, fails to float, and the final piece, ‘Scarbo’, is heavy-going.

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Good versions of Gaspard are now quite plentiful on disc, with Michelangeli and Argerich awarded legendary status, but with Boris Berezovsky’s arguably the best among more recent recordings. Lilya Zilberstein’s recording of Miroirs is the most interesting of those made in recent years. Adrian Jack