SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

RAVEL: Sonatine; Gaspard de la Nuit; Menuet antique; Le Tombeau de Couperin – Paolo Giacometti, same selections on Erard & Steinway pianos – Channel Classics (2 discs)

Fascinating A/B comparison of the same repertory and same pianist, on both old and new grand pianos.

Published on October 12, 2012

RAVEL: Sonatine; Gaspard de la Nuit; Menuet antique; Le Tombeau de Couperin – Paolo Giacometti, same selections on Erard & Steinway pianos – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 31612 (2 discs) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Although I don’t see a Volume 1 listing anywhere on this album, this is evidently the first volume of a set of two which will cover the complete Ravel piano music, as do Pizarro, Bacha, and Giesking ($70 from Japan) on two-disc previous SACD albums. Paolo Giacometti is a proponent of period keyboards, and has made recordings on Pleyel, Graf, Streicher and Erard pianos before. He feels that he found interpretive revelations while playing on these pianos and that inspired him to put together this project using both old and “new” instruments. The quote marks are due to Steinway having changed almost not at all since the last 19th century, and the Erard he uses here dates from 1888.  This wood-frame, parallel-strung piano was a favorite of Liszt, and Ravel composed his music on one at home.

The program is an interesting one.  I once played the Sonatine in a recital, so am quite familiar with it. Le Tombeau de Couperin is given a sparkling treatment, with all six movements offering delightful takes on the Baroque dances which Ravel used in stylized fashion in this work. I found it a bit difficult to go back and forth between the two SACD discs. While for comparison use, it would be better to have had each selection played on each of the pianos, one after the other. But I can understand that would make for difficult programming if not doing the comparisons but just listening to the music.

I found the Erard disc to be the most fitting to Ravel’s music. The recent restoration of the piano is a superb job and it has a more singing and rich tone to my ears than the Steinway.  It demonstrated that even with a more laid-back and mellow tone the very precise neo-Classical details of Ravel’s piano music come thru beautifully. But then I’m generally negative about Steinways (especially the U.S. ones) anyway, being annoyed by their steely treble sound. This comparison effort made me want to hear the same piano music recorded in hi-res on several modern concert grands, including Bosendorfer and Fazioli. The sonics are good, but not quite up to the clarity of the complete Ravel set by Arthur Pizarro on Linn SACDs. I’m looking forward to the second volume by Giacometti.

—John Sunier




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