Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes was a confidante to Albéniz, Debussy, and Ravel; some of his most famous and beloved works to be found in the canon of piano music were first heard under his hands -- both books of Debussy's Images, L'isle Joyeuse, Ravel's Pavane, Jeux d'eau, and Miroirs. Trapped in Barcelona behind Franco's regime during the Spanish Civil War, Viñes spent his last years in poverty, unable to return to Paris where his artistry was valued. Although he died in 1943, more than a decade passed before his personal collection of music scores was made available on the open market, and the University of Boulder in Colorado obtained them "for a song," ultimately scattering the 800-plus scores among the general population of its music library. With the help of Boulder librarian Laurie Sampsel, pianist David Korevaar has worked to reassemble this priceless treasure, and Koch's The Ricardo Viñes Collection features Korevaar's rendering of several previously unknown works by French composers dating from 1888 (d'Indy) to 1912 (Louis Aubert).
This was probably the greatest period of relevance in terms of France's relationship to music for piano; the so-called "era of Impressionism" which was not so much an era as it was a manner of expression adopted to varying degrees by composers not only in France but also in England, Russia, and elsewhere. Moreover, it was not absorbed by every French composer of the time, as The Ricardo Viñes Collection makes clear; the Prélude, Fugue et Final of Henry Woollett and Schumanniana, Op. 30, of Vincent d'Indy owe as much to German tradition as they do French. Henry Février's Premiere Nocturne combines the languidness of French Impressionism with the language of Richard Wagner. Aubert's Sillages and Jean Roger-Ducasse's Six Preludes, however, are very close to the sound world of Ravel; that stands to reason, as Roger-Ducasse was one of Ravel's classmates under Gabriel Fauré and Aubert was one of his closest friends and the dedicatee of Valses nobles et sentimentales. These pieces are not necessarily inferior to Ravel's, either, but they are considerably independent from him in expression; Aubert is more Apollonian in his outlook by comparison, whereas Roger-Ducasse is yet more expansive and catholic. All of this goes toward the realization that in limiting itself to focusing on just two composers -- Debussy and Ravel -- musical history has hamstrung itself in terms of truly understanding the reach and expanse of French piano music in this era.
Korevaar's performances are dedicated and right on the money -- he is reserved and cool in the Aubert, loose and liberal in Roger-Ducasse, and projects the mixture of majesty and lyricism that the German-inspired works require. Koch's recording is clean and direct, and The Ricardo Viñes Collection will make for a welcome addition to any library that takes its French music seriously.