• Pablo Ziffer

Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit (Lortie, Grosvenor)



Two dazzling performances of a suite whose absurd technical demands are easily matched by the precision of its construction and the dazzling range of textures it encompasses. Both performances here have been met with critical acclaim, but are otherwise very different. Lortie’s playing is sumptuous and limpid; there is a microscopic attention to detail, and you can hear even the tiniest musical gestures with startling clarity. Grosvenor's performance, on the other hand, seems to take seriously Ravel's instruction that when it came to Gaspard, one should not interpret – just play: his performance features precipitous accelerandi [38:10], striking colours [see the sudden change in texture at 25:44], wafer-thin pianissimos [26:31], and sudden reels of notes like jagged stabs of light in the murk. The level of virtuosity and control needed to pull off the sort of hyper-precise effects Grosvenor elicits from the piano is quite hard to imagine.

Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit has three movements, each based on an image drawn from a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. (As an aside, it is possible to analyse Gaspard as a Sonata: Ondine has a sonata-like two-theme structure, and the fast-slow-fast arrangement of the movements is fairly typical for a Sonata.) The first movement, Ondine, depicts a water demon trying to seduce the observer into her lake. The technical demands here include: quiet but rapid semi-chordal figuration, the passing of legato melody between hands, and maintaining the independence of the hands (especially in the climax: 3:54). The second, Le Gibet, depicts a man hanging from the gallows, silhouetted against a red sunset, while church bells toll in the distance (the B-flat ostinato in 3-3-2 syncopated rhythm running through the movement.) The third, Scarbo, depicts the nighttime mischief of a goblin lurking in the shadows. This last movement is notoriously difficult (featuring repeated notes, hand-crossing, large leaps, interlocking chordal runs, rapid figuration), and contains two colossal, intricate climaxes.

Ashish Xiangyi Kumar

Lortie:

00:00 – Ondine

06:40 – Le Gibet

13:20 – Scarbo

Grosvenor:

22:14 – Ondine

28:41 – Le Gibet (Grosvenor accents the ostinato to so that the second beat becomes a near-inaudible echo of the first.)

34:10 -- Scarbo (Grosvenor's attacks here are among the sharpest I've heard: see 37:31and so on.)

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