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Ravel: Miroirs, Gaspard de la nuit - Patrick O'Byrne

Ravel: Miroirs, Gaspard de la nuit - Patrick O'Byrne

Stockfisch Records  SFR 357.4049.2

Stereo Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Ravel: Miroirs, Gaspard de la nuit

Patrick O'Byrne (piano)

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Review by John Miller - January 28, 2008

Two firsts for me. I have not encountered Irish-born Patrick O'Byrne before. He trained in New Zealand, London and Paris and now resides in Germany where he holds the Senior Chair for advanced piano studies at the University of the Arts in Bremen. He plays here on a Fazioli piano, which I have never heard in Ravel before, and it is a revelation.

Stockfisch are renowned for their audiophile discs, and this one has exceptional fidelity. The back insert bears the DSD logo but there are no more details about the recording, so it remains unclear if this is a PCM mastered with DSD or pure DSD. No matter; the sound of the Fazioli is stunningly realistic in this stereo only recital. It has tremendous realism and presence, conveying the characteristic crystalline upper range, which never hardens or rings even at high volume, and the sonorous and pure deep bass which is a joy, completely lacking in the metallic overtones of Steinway D models. This works so well for these Ravel pieces that I felt I was hearing them for the first time. Une Barque sur l'Océan and La Vallée des cloches both explore both extremes of the keyboard, and there is no smudging of the deepest bass or any harsh treble in O'Byrne's well-articulated runs.

That sense of discovery is also due in no small part to the outstanding performance of Patrick O'Byrne. Relatively few pianists have the technique or the temperament to excel with Ravel's mercurial and fastidious scoring, and also to indulge in his fantasy, particularly in the seminal Miroirs and Gaspard suites. I had intended to make side-by side comparisons but was so engrossed in O'Byrne and his rapport with the Fazoli that I just listened all the way through. He is meticulous in following Ravel's dynamic markings, follows the frequent changes in pace and time signature, and copes with fiendish polyrhythms and complex textures for which Ravel often has to provide a third stave. All this is absorbed, and the music flows as if it were being improvised on the spot and caught on the wing. The recording is completely transparent, so every detail of these fleeting pieces is audible in a way which was never possible before high-resolution recording.

I was also reminded of the important influence on Ravel of late Liszt, and it further occurred to me that Rachmaninov was in turn influenced by Ravel, particularly in his Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux. Truly Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit are pianistic milestones.

I very much hope that Stockfisch will bring Patrick O'Byrne back to the studio. If they do, perhaps they will make up for the present disc being one of the shortest SACDs I have come across; it lasts only 48:50! However, I confess that at the end of a stunning performance of Scarbo I really could not have listened to anything else.

Recommended as a very fine and demonstration-worthy piano recital, both sonically and artistically.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

Performance:

stars