François-Joël Thiollier

Ravel: Piano Works, Vol. 2

(CD - Naxos #553008)

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In this second volume of Ravel's piano works, François-Joël Thiollier performs three pieces that are more often heard in their orchestral guises, and one masterpiece that stands firmly on its own as a tour de force of pianistic wizardry. Certainly, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Le tombeau de Couperin, and La valse have achieved wider fame in Ravel's brilliant arrangements for orchestra, but the original versions for piano have an immediacy and clarity that are wholly their own. Their respective characters -- by turns Romantically nostalgic, quaintly neo-Baroque, and opulent in a post-Romantic vein -- are more subtly expressed through the piano's limited tone colors. On the whole, Thiollier communicates these works in a somewhat introspective and restrained manner that seems appropriate to their intimate scale. In contrast, Gaspard de la nuit -- inspired by the macabre prose poems of Aloysius Bertrand -- is rather more akin to the diabolical piano music of Franz Liszt and Alexander Scriabin, and the work's immense difficulties may well be called fiendish. Ravel was not a virtuoso pianist, but he created remarkable technical complexities in this nightmarish suite. Thiollier's interpretations of "Ondine" and "Le gibet" are both imaginative and skillful, but his prestidigitation in the third piece, "Scarbo," is extremely compelling and more than a little unnerving.

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