RAVEL: Miroirs (Mirrors); Pavane pour une infante defunte; Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand – Carlo Grante, p. – Music & Arts

RAVEL: Miroirs (Mirrors); Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess); Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand – Carlo Grante, piano – Music & Arts 1289, 58:05 (7/10/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded in Vienna, 2013, these keyboard works of Ravel, composed 1899-1908, embrace the colorful and “impressionist” aspects of his art, given the constraints upon the latter term, about which both Ravel and Debussy expressed deep reservations. Ravel claimed to have conceived his Miroirs from a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act I, ii: “the eye sees not itself/ but by reflection, by some other things.” Ravel dedicated the five movements each to a member of Les Apaches, the anti-establishment group of musicians and critics who, like the later Dadaists, rebelled against traditional forms.

Carlo Grante adopts a consistently hard patina for Ravel, which certainly accentuates the precise clarity characteristic of Ravel’s scores. The chromatic line of Noctuelles vibrates with ephemeral grace, the bass line haunted even in the midst of a chorale that passes through the figurations. Blackbirds whistle tunes in melancholy arabesques in Oiseaux tristes, the effect often strident in the midst of a somber forest atmosphere. The keyboard effects seem as liquid as aerial in Grante’s realization.

But water does dominate Une barque sur l’ocean, a work conceived as a single motif layered upon itself over rich bass chords.  Much of the chromatic arpeggio writing derives from Ravel’s deep admiration for Liszt. The rocking impulse may owe debts to both Chopin’s Berceuse and Barcarolle. The liquid stretti eventually assume a psychological dimension that we might attribute to our reading of Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer.” The brilliant Basque piece de bravura, Alborado del Gracioso, likely has as fine a recorded performance in Dinu Lipatti as we can ever experience. Carlo Grante’s guitar effects, however, certainly vie for deft resonance. The Scarlatti influence proves no less strong, balanced by the melodic contour of the poetic copla, set in keyboard recitative. Whatever intentional humor the piece contains becomes submerged in the digital acrobatics that stir and propel us in sheer motor ecstasy. The bells of Paris at midday inspire La vallee des cloches, a work realized on three staves and thusly layered.  The falling fourth interval that has infiltrated the suite becomes overt here, in a piece almost thoroughly “atmospheric.” We might be traversing the eerily peaceful halls of Poe’s “The Haunted Palace.”

Conceived as an elegiac rondo, Pavane pour une Enfante defunte reveals some debts to Faure, with whom Ravel was studying. Ravel asserts that courtly poise and not death dominates his sensibility here. The Spanish character of the piece means to mirror the noble and demure character of a princess in Velazquez. Grante’s polished restraint profoundly grasps the composer’s intent.

The Liszt influence – cross-fertilized by Balakirev – saturates Ravel’s 1908 keyboard transformation of Aloysius Bertrand’s poetic triptych Gaspard de la Nuit.  Darkly hallucinatory, the poems inspire Ravel to transcend Liszt’s Mephisto and Balakirev’s Islamey, both technically and imagistically. The famous Mercury inscription by Gina Bachauer gave us John Gielgud’s reading of the English translation. Vlado Perlemuter claimed that Ravel merely transformed a traditional, three-movement sonata into a vast, incredible demanding sound picture. Dancing demons, bursts of light and water, the implacable sun reflected on a rotting corpse, all becomes vehicles for arpeggios, runs, chromatic leaps, modal scales, and manifold rhythmic permutations. Grante adds his name to the great Gaspards – those of Argerich, Gieseking, Mogilevsky, Pizarro, Michelangeli, Perlemuter, et al. – by having created a panoply of colors and harmonic dimensions that collaborate to “visualize” our collective, walking nightmares.

Audio engineering, editing and mastering by Gerhard Kanzian of KVK – SOUNDSTUDIO is first rate.

—Gary Lemco

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