François-Joël Thiollier

Ravel: Piano Works, Vol. 1

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In comparison to his brilliant orchestral works, Maurice Ravel's solo piano pieces are often considered slighter amusements. Yet for all their lightness and brevity, these miniatures capture Ravel's urbane wit and refinement in ways that the large concert works cannot, and they find the composer in a more intimate and relaxed setting. The ebullient thumping of La parade, the surprising leaps of the Sérénade grotesque, and the peculiarly charming dissonances of the Menuet antique point to a lively, spontaneous imagination, and these fresh pieces evoke the spirit of improvisation. The Pavane pour une infante défunte is perhaps even more poignant in its piano form than in its famous orchestrated version, for its nostalgia seems more personal and immediate. Jeux d'eau and the Prélude are impressionistic and colorful; though the style might seem quaint, they are tastefully constructed masterworks on a small scale. Classically pristine and precise, the Sonatine is one of Ravel's most delightful gems, understated and unpretentious, but bright and intriguing in its polished facets. Miroirs is the most ambitious series, of which the Alborada del gracioso is widely performed as an independent vehicle for pianistic virtuosity. François-Joël Thiollier gives all these pieces finely nuanced and energetic readings, with great sensitivity to the music's character and shape.

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