LABELS: Warner Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Ravel, Carter
WORKS: Gaspard de la nuit; Night fantasies; Diversions; 90+
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 62160-2
Introducing his 1983 recording of Elliott Carter’s labyrinthine 22-minute Night Fantasies, Charles Rosen wrote: ‘In its variety of moods and expression – lyric, satiric, brutal, dramatic, contemplative and light hearted – it is perhaps the most extraordinary large keyboard work written since the death of Ravel.’ Doubtless he was thinking primarily of Ravel’s fearsomely fantastical Gaspard de la Nuit (1907). Now the versatile Pierre-Laurent Aimard has brought the two pieces together.
Aimard’s outstanding virtue is his clarity of touch. Even in the most shimmering textures of Ravel’s ‘Ondine’ and the most split-second frissons of ‘Scabo’, one hears pretty well every note. The downside is an intermittent want of poetry; one admires the grim tread with which he sustains the central movement ‘Le gibet’ at a very slow tempo, but something of its macabre fascination is missing. Here the much-praised Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on the 2-CD MDG set (reviewed February 2004) is more compelling at a slightly faster tempo, just as he proves more volatile and scintillating in the outer movements. Aimard’s recorded sound, too, though clean and forward, slightly filters out the highest resonances while picking up his periodic sniffs.
All his formidable skills, however, are involved in Night Fantasies: its teeming, ever-changing textures of flickering, grinding figuration makes this among the toughest conceptions even in Carter’s demanding output. Here, listeners will find Aimard’s illustrated talk on the bonus disc a real help. He is good, too, in the three shorter pieces from Carter’s on-going Indian summer of creativity, which treat some of his favourite polymetric devices in simpler, more sprightly form. Altogether a distinguished presentation of an enterprising programme. Bayan Northcott