Ravel: Piano Works

COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Piano Works
PERFORMER: Monique Haas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-94826-2 ADD (1968)
Some stereotypes: French music, especially piano music, is characterised by. its colour and charm, the finesse of its detail, its jeweller-like craftsmanship; Germanic music, especially piano music, is concerned more with form, idea, metaphysics, development.

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As with most stereotypes, there’s more than a grain of truth here. Yet with one exception, the qualities which these particular French pianists have most strikingly in common (on this evidence anyway) are a surprising lack of pianistic resource and a commensurate lack of rhythmic subtlety and depth. Whatever their other (and many) merits, they are as a group both pianistically dull and melodically prosaic.

But then who would include any of these names if invited to list the most outstanding interpreters of French piano music in our time? Seldom here will you find anything even approaching the colouristic wizardry of a Richter or Michelangeli or Perlemuter; nor will you find anywhere (with one exception) the multifaceted rhythmic sophistication of, say, Uchida or Crossley or Beroff.

The exception is Yvonne Loriod, who could hardly have been married to Messiaen for all those years without these two fundamental requisites of truly great pianism. No listener who seriously wants to get to the essence of Messiaen’s work should be without these discs — which isn’t to suggest that they are peerless.

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The most interesting of these collections are naturally those whose repertoire is least familiar. Chabrier’s piano music (as Rubinstein used to remind us) has many delights and surprises, not least his four-hand works, which here get readings of infectious good humour and wit. And Dukas, too, was a far more interesting and masterly composer than you might imagine if you know him only through the brilliant Sorcerer’s Apprentice, As for the rest, you’ll find it all better done elsewhere. Jeremy Siepmann