Gaspard de la nuit
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Recorded between 7-11 February 2005 in the Großer Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Reviewed by: Janet Notenoquah
Reviewed: September 2005
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
[Plus bonus CD including an illustrated talk on the music by Aimard in English, French and German]
Duration: 59 minutes [excluding bonus CD]
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a talented and versatile pianist, has spent a considerable part of his career researching and performing works by contemporary composers, including György Ligeti and Messiaen (Aimard won first prize in the Messiaen Competition in 1973). His lengthy association with Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain undoubtedly helped to shape his future musical proclivities; nevertheless, he also performs and lectures on the traditional piano repertoire at prestigious venues and institutions.
Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit is based on three poems by Aloysius Bertrand, which were introduced to Ravel by his friend Ricardo Vi-ñes, a fellow student at the Paris Conservatoire. The first, ‘Ondine’, depicts a young man looking out of his window by moonlight and hearing, in the rain outside and in the ripples of a nearby lake, the voice of a water nymph calling him to join her. The intelligent and sensitive manner in which Aimard executes the opening of Ravel’s piano evocation sets the mood beautifully. His pedalling is discrete, never obscuring the crystalline texture of the demisemiquaver patterns that form an important feature of the music. The recording has an intimacy that lends itself to the work’s atmosphere and its details that are background and foreground. Aimard’s great architectural sense combined with his impressive technique allows the piece to flow whilst remaining expressive.
The opening bells in ‘Le gibet’ are distant and haunting. Aimard manages to keep the stillness of the tempo amidst an engaging chordal structure that surrounds the weariness of the ever-resounding bell motif. Again, Aimard displays a great sense of imagery, fully grasping the beauty and eerieness of the original poem, and projecting a strong inner sense of rhythm that allows the music to move forward and offer a more metaphysical interpretation of time.
The finale, ‘Scarbo’ (a gnome often present in Bertrand’s fantasies), reflects the pianism of Franz Liszt. The three-note idea at the beginning goes through a series of transformations in both a compositional and literary sense. Aimard’s expression in those three notes is powerful and seductive. He displays remarkable skill in the declamatory passages, offering a depth of sound and scintillating climaxes while fully sustaining architecture.
Elliott Carter wrote Night Fantasies in 1980 and dedicated it to four American pianists: Ursula Oppens, Charles Rosen, Paul Jacobs and Gilbert Kalish. Aimard’s takes total command of the various rhythms and textures which dominate this piece’s “continuously changing moods, suggesting the fleeting thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind during a period of wakefulness at night”. Through his technical agility and timbral variety, Aimard brings alive the contrasting evocations of this eventful piece, assuming great control and considerable depth of purpose in the dominant elements.
The highly polyphonic Two Diversions, composed in 1999 for Carnegie Hall’s “Millennium Piano Book”, have great precision of timing and spatial relationships in order to link episodes that are dominated by a chain of two-note chords. Aimard’s sense of dialogue and multifaceted articulations bring the music to a new level, affording it an individual meaning. Aimard extends these same qualities in 90+, composed in March 1994 in honour of Goffredo Petrassi’s 90th birthday, and in which an exceptional sense of rhythmic textures is paramount.
A bonus CD includes an illustrated talk by Aimard that offers an informative insight into the works performed, and of particular interest because Aimard plays musical examples to support his explanations. For anyone unfamiliar with the works of Carter, it is worth listening to the talk beforehand.