Basque/French composer Maurice Ravel was, along with Debussy, one of the first true impressionists; a complicated man, his work often drew from classicism, and he was also one of the first composers to include the influences of jazz in his many works. His compositions often originated as piano pieces, but he was a master orchestrator, and frequently transcribed the piano originals for the orchestra. This two-disc set offers a recital of those originals, and French pianist Philippe Bianconi offers a truly idiomatic performance of a set that is both extremely diverse and remarkably entertaining. Examples from just about every phase of Ravels’ career are included; his impressionist works, such as Jeux d’eau and Ondine are offered delicate and graceful readings. Bianconi really has a way with these pieces; his Ondine really conjures an image of the watery sprite to near perfection. Bianconi’s skills are constantly in evidence throughout this excellent recital; witness as he effortlessly tosses off difficult works such as Miroirs and Le Tombeau de Couperin, where the precision of his Toccata is expert and yet lyrical at the same time.
This disc is a live recording, and as such, has quite good sound for such an undertaking. There’s virtually no crowd noise; in fact, all clapping is restrained until the end of each disc. I have no idea regarding the size of the recording venue, but the Steinway concert grand piano is given near-reference quality sound; the recording really gives the impression that the piano is in your living room, and you do get a good sense of ambience and of the recorded acoustic. The surrounds are employed expertly to enhance that sense of ambience. However, at the end of each side, as the audience applauds the performance, clapping is only heard from the surrounds, and this just seems really disjointed. The clapping is meaningless and totally inconsequential to the performance, and this is just a really minor gaffe, but it just struck me as a rather odd punctuation mark to an otherwise excellent performance. Highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs