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“RAVEL: Piano Masterworks” = Serenade grotesque; Jeux d’Eau; Sonatine; Miroirs suite; Gaspard de la nuit – Alessandra Ammara, p. – Arts Music

RAVEL: Piano Masterworks” = Serenade grotesque; Jeux d’Eau; Sonatine; Miroirs suite; Gaspard de la nuit – Alessandra Ammara, p. – Arts Music multichannel SACD 47763-8, 76:29 (11/12/13) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

There are of course many competitors in Ravel’s piano music to his new release, but few could offer the superb hi-res multichannel sonics of this one, as well as the excellent performances. The 96K/24-bit recording used a set of Shoeps Ambisonic mics as well as a B & K mic. The original recording was made in Italy in November of 2012.

The technical perfection of Ravel in his piano music as well as his unique style, which would have an influence on that of his followers for successive generations, come across beautifully in these excellent recordings. The opening Serenade grotesque provides a sort of introduction to the sinister suite to be heard later, Gaspard de la nuit—inspired by the poetry of Aloysius Bertrand. This suite of three movements is universally regarded as among the most difficult piano music in the repertory to be performed.

The five-movement Miriors Suite describes musically five completely different sonic landscapes. “Oiseaux tristes” almost literally reproduces the bird sounds in a sort of literal ornithology, to be repeated years later in more detail and more systematically by composer Messiaen. Musically expressing the theme of water, as he did in his path-breaking Jeux d’Eau, Ravel provides gentle musical waves to support his “Barque on the Ocean.” He later expanded the movement “Albarada del gracioso” into a colorful and brilliant orchestral work. “The Valley of the Clocks” last movement again was inspired a theme which has influenced many composers over the years: the ticking of clocks and bell sounds.

In the Gaspard de la nuit triptych Ravel achieves heights of timbral invention and a variety of articulation that will affect many composers after him.  The water element is again strong in “Ondine,” and “Le gibet” depicts the gruesome vision of a corpse hanging from the gallows. The obsessive B-flat is repeated more than 150 times during its course. “Scarbo” paints with highly difficult piano music a portrait of the mischievous and malevolent imp who scampers thru the scene.

—John Sunier

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