"Jeux de miroirs" is a magical disc that features two pieces played twice – with solo piano and with full orchestra – to reveal the sheer magic of Ravel’s revolutionary world of sound, and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week.
Maurice Ravel’s music was so charged with color, it changed the essential sound of the orchestra. And it revolutionized the piano, too. Ravel painted radiant and three-dimensional worlds with a new kind of precision and detail, much like the 20th-century French artists who woke up their canvases with a fascination for light and color.
Pianist Javier Perianes and the Paris Orchestra now make it easy to experience Ravel’s genius for atmospheric effect and blended timbres on their latest album, which starts with music for solo piano, then switches to Ravel’s own version of the same music for orchestra. You realize that both have a liquid kind of beauty, with an uncanny sense of light that shifts from foreground to background. Good luck deciding which version you like better.
The first of the “mirrored” pieces that get played twice is Alborada del gracioso (The Jester’s Dawn Song), written originally for piano as a part of the set called Miroirs. Ravel embraced his Basque heritage and delighted in conjuring the sensually backlit landscapes of Spain that lived in his imagination. Alborada is full of Spanish rhythms and contrasts, and the CD opens with Ravel’s orchestral version. After that experience, it may not seem that the castanets and tambourine could possibly get their due in the piano version. But you’ll be amazed. (Go directly from track 1 to track 15.)
The other “mirrored” piece is Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, begun in 1914, but interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. The war devastated Ravel, and he tried many times to enlist, ultimately managing to serve in 1915 as a driver for the army’s motor corps. He was discharged for health reasons in 1917 and completed Le Tombeau that year. It’s a suite of pieces that pays homage to the early French keyboardist François Couperin, with each of the movements dedicated to the memory of a friend who died in battle. Perianes makes it glow, with a warm and tender approach. Listen to the effect he gets in the Minuet (track 6) compared to the sound of the Paris Orchestra’s wind section in the same piece (track 13).
Smack in the middle of the mirror, you'll find a great treat: Ravel’s Concerto in G, bringing orchestra and piano together with a kaleidoscopic romp full of sunshine and a little jazz in the outer movements, and one of his most touching melodies unspooling in the middle. Ravel wanted to play the piano at the 1932 premiere, but after practicing incessantly, he wasn’t up to it, and it was Marguerite Long who played it first.
Here, conductor Josep Pons brings out all the glistening details while remaining totally tuned in to Perianes’s approach.
And listen all week for excerpts from Jeux de Miroirs on WCRB!