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Ravel: Piano Works - Descharmes

Ravel: Piano Works - Descharmes

Audite  92.571

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Maurice Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales, Gaspard de la Nuit, Sonatine, La Valse

Romain Descharmes (piano)


If one were to visualise the history of piano music as a mountainous landscape, the oeuvre of Maurice Ravel would without doubt form a peak within this panorama. It is a Massif Central of its own for the pianistic “mountaineer”. The profile, the seductive attraction and the perfidies of these works have long been known, and it is not only within French pianism that they belong to the canon of 20th century piano music. However, Ravel’s artificial, indirect soundscape challenges the interpreter to extreme levels, demanding virtuosity, a sense of sound and sensitivity.

The works recorded for this CD by the young French pianist Romain Descharmes present the quintessence of Ravel’s oeuvre for piano: from the classicist Sonatine via the fantastical world of Gaspard de la Nuit – a milestone in virtuosity in the entire history of piano music – and the ingenious waltz-paraphrases of the Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, to the rarely performed transcription of the world-famous orchestral work La Valse for solo piano. Descharmes’ realisation of the piece and his performance, confidently combining risk and control, impressively reveal what powers can be unleashed in the piano version of La Valse – but also how obsession and tragedy permeate Ravel’s music and require each other.

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Review by John Broggio - June 22, 2009

A début that augers much promise but fails to deliver in entirety.

Romain Descharmes is clearly a pianist of some talent and he chooses a programme of some considerable difficulty - both technically and musically. As can be heard in both La Valse and Gaspard, he stretches his technique to the very limit and occasionally, it is not quite up to the task when compared with the musical results as heard on Balakirev, Ravel, Mussorgsky - Kempf (for Gaspard) and Ravel: The Complete Piano Solo Works, Vol. 1 - Pizarro (for Gaspard also but especially La Valse) and Ravel: The Complete Piano Solo Works, Vol. 2 - Pizarro (for the remainder).

The most noticeable failing is in that most challenging of Ravel's masterpieces, Gaspard de la Nuit; in the second movement, Le Gibet, the tolling bell is sometimes hidden - just listen to Kempf for a supreme example of how insistent and threatening it can sound. At other very taxing moments, the audible impression is of someone struggling to control his fingers (no mean feat in this work) rather than finding musical expression in such passages; Descharmes nearly succeeds but when there are competing accounts that do succeed, nearly is not quite good enough. Given time, Descharmes could easily flourish into a fine artist but he is not quite ready for frequent exposure to the spotlight of the recording studio.

In the Sonatine, Descharmes holds his own without being distinguished and someone wanting an account of this work could easily be happy here. Sadly, in Valses nobles et sentimentales the mood is a little too removed from the waltz that Ravel seeks to satirise - Pizarro gives a far better impression in this work. In La Valse that closes the disc, Pizarro is again in a class of his own - finding and delineating details that Descharmes loses in the welter of notes in Ravel's transcription.

The sound is predictably fine from Audite and gives a fine impression of the Kawai piano used (indeed the instrument sounds as if in your own room); clearly a manufacturer that makes good instruments - it would be nice to hear someone of the calibre of, say, Kempf on such an instrument to truly assess the possibilities that they possess.

Sadly not recommendable.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Multichannel):

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