Ravel: Complete piano works

Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi)

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Ravel Complete piano works
Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 931811-12 137:38 mins (2 discs)

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Alexandre Tharaud has been widely praised for his playing of Rameau, in which he acknowledges the influence of the recordings from the 1950s by the great Marcelle Meyer. In this recording, made in 2003, he has chosen to play a modern Steinway in an acoustic that for him recalls some recordings from that same decade, and he has dedicated this recording to Meyer’s memory. He calls the acoustic (of the Lutheran Church of La Villette in Paris) ‘warm and woody’, and certainly it is not cold or metallic.

Technically Tharaud is unfazed by the terrors of ‘Scarbo’ or the ‘Toccata’ of Le tombeau de Couperin. He also understands the importance of the regular dance rhythms that inform so much of this music and his rubato is of the slightest, just enough to allow breathing space. But in the Sonatine I find his pedalling a touch intrusive, the piece’s classicism unduly romanticised; more importantly, all through this recital Ravel’s dynamics are routinely ignored. For example, in ‘Ondine’ the upward arpeggio that launches the final paragraph should not begin fortissimo, as played here, but mermaid-like swooshes up suddenly from pianissimo. ‘Le gibet’, too, lacks the monotony Ravel demanded (and did not get from its first interpreter Ricardo Viñes). Ravel’s dynamics are often counter-intuitive, and defying them undermines the music. Tharaud’s lack of care in this respect is all the sadder since so much of his playing is deeply musical – the ‘Forlane’ in Le tombeau bitter-sweet, the ‘Prélude’ sparkling at the correct, very fast tempo.

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Roger Nichols