Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Works

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Hannsler
ALBUM TITLE: Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Works
WORKS: Complete Solo Piano Works
PERFORMER: Florian Uhlig (piano)

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Technically, this is playing of the highest order. Florian Uhlig has fingers to die for, and one of the advantages of this is that he has the confidence to use the sustaining pedal only when it’s really called for. Time and again, I was stunned by the clarity and brilliance of passages that too often pass in a hopeful mush and, though I do feel I know these pieces well, was struck yet again with admiration for the composer’s astonishing ear. The killer pieces like ‘Alborada del gracioso’ and La valse are despatched with tremendous bravado, while Uhlig’s range of colours in the three Daphnis excerpts removed any doubts I might have had over their piano-worthiness.

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So it is with considerable reluctance that I have to notice a number of apparently small features that together do militate quite significantly against overall enjoyment. First of all, and most surprisingly in such a familiar repertoire, there are a few wrong notes, none of them forced by technical difficulty – for example, in the musette section of the ‘Menuet’ in Le tombeau de Couperin three G major chords that should all be minor. Equally surprising is the absence of the important low G sharp in bar 66 of Jeux d’eau. Then there are questionable interpretations. In ‘Oiseaux tristes’, surely there’s no reason to use rubato on the repeat of the opening bird call? In my experience, birds just don’t do that! In the Sonatine, the ‘très lent’ at the end of the ‘Menuet’ needs to go much slower, as on Ravel’s own piano roll, otherwise the whole balance of the movement suffers. Finally, Uhlig is rather cavalier in placing crescendos and accelerandos: sometimes the result is acceptable, sometimes not. But pianists should be aware of Ravel’s complaint that performers tended to start these elements too early, reducing both energy and surprise. Roger Nichols