Thursday, July 4, 2019

Maurice Ravel, Complete Works for Solo Piano, Hakon Austbo

If you are reading this I suspect you already know that Ravel's Complete Works for Solo Piano is one of the extraordinary treasures of the Twentieth Century. In the hands of pianist Hakon Austbo (SIMAX Classics PSC 1366 2-CDs) vibrant new life gets a fresh breath into things, which matters a great deal for those who have heard a good many versions of this music. But then too anyone who is a novice would gain an excellent introduction with this as well.

It has struck me for a long while how the music itself is as a whole nearly infinitely malleable and so subject to a pretty broad spectrum of readings. My first set of Ravel piano was on three LPs. It was remarkably straightforward though I had no idea if it was or not. My mother was so enthralled by it all that she played the records a nearly infinite number of times. So it is in her honor today that I return to this wonderful music. It is a supreme test of the music's excellence that she could have played the music so many times in my presence and yet I still retain a great love for it all.

This Hakon Austbo reading has superlative interpretive acumen oozing from its musical pores, if you will pardon my wordy exuberance. It may always feel like spring with this music, but in the hands of Hakon's it is a most lovely spring morning and all is right with the world.

Hakon with the opening "Gaspard de la Nuit" shows us part of what he is about. By sometimes resorting to a contemplative rubato he brings ever more to us the Modernist abstract element at play. Then too always Ravel is the supreme colorist in his piano music and Austbo lets us feel it with a splash and dash of the utmost poetic taste I suppose you might say?

The technique is wholly there. Yet it never calls attention to itself so much as it is harnessed, it is used to coax the maximum of poetry from the keys. The "Miroirs" gets a kind of crystalline prismatic chiming such as we who already know the beauty of the work especially appreciate. And for something that demands a sort of regularly paced reading, the "Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte" shimmers and shines within its rhythmic "case" in ravishing ways.

I must say there is a consistent sensitivity of touch and a flourish of artful phrasing throughout the whole of this program, from the "Sonatine" and its expressive thrust to the deeply flowing "Le Tombeau de Couperin." This is one of the finest Ravel sets I have yet to hear and I do very much recommend it as a supplement, a ready addition of excellence in readings for those who have heard a great deal of the Ravel interpretive wash over the years. Or for that matter it is a fine start for those that know next to nothing about these things. Either way you are getting some wonderful piano mastery in a very well produced audio presentation.

I suggest you check this one out if you find yourself attracted to the idea of it all! I doubt you'll be disappointed. I am myself very glad to have this on hand to return to.

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