Ravel: Piano Concertos in G & D; Miroirs

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Concertos in G & D; Miroirs
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano); Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 8770

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‘We can play music quickly or slowly at the same tempo’. Artur Schnabel’s observation came to mind listening to Deutsche Grammophon’s new set of Ravel’s concertos from the enticing combination of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Pierre Boulez and The Cleveland Orchestra.

The obvious reference point is Boulez’s previous account of these works for the yellow label with soloist Krystian Zimerman. Both discs display exceptional pianism and glittering orchestral playing, but that is the extent of any sense of deja vu, for the interpretations are chalk and cheese in terms of spirit.

Take the Allegro section of the Concerto for Left Hand, for example: where Zimerman (like most others) bounces forward in playful abandon around the orchestra’s chugging, Aimard is resolutely grounded, wilfully sluggish even. And yet, their speeds are barely different.

Aimard brings the sense of insistent march to the fore, the bassoon solo evoking the world of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring rather than the jazzy froth of 1920s Paris.

In the G Major Concerto Aimard and Boulez favour dry rather than sparkling wit. The Adagio is beautifully crafted, and the orchestra’s control of the finest nuances of colour is exceptional. Sound is very good for CD, the recordings being taken from live performances (rather than being live).

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The invaluable coupling is an enthralling account of Miroirs. Aimard crackles with energy in ‘Alborada del gracioso’, and his poetry in ‘La vallée des cloches’ is utterly sublime. Christopher Dingle