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EXPLORING MUSIC:AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE Volume III of Maurice Ravel's Complete Solo Piano Works

The MHS Review 383 Vol. 11, NO. 5• 1987

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David M. Greene

David M. Greene


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Writing these columns has been an education for me. I spent 40-some years yearning for someone to ask me to write about matters musical. When they did, and I sat down to do it, I found I was terrified. Who was I to talk about such awesome things in print? It wasn't so much that I was ignorant of my subject as that I found I didn't know what to say about it. I con­vinced myself, however, that the one thing I could safely avoid was expressing an opi­nion about the performance on the record. In the end I opted for background aimed at l'homme moyen sensuel. After a while, when those who wanted something else realized I was not about to change, the brickbats stopped flying and every now and then someone even sent me a note in­dicating he or she liked what I was doing.

Six months ago a local newspaper, ob­viously desperate, asked me to take on the job of music reviewing. I very quickly learned several new things. One was that my readers did not want, say, the history of Handelian oratorio. What they wanted to know was how well the performers did and how they did it. I soon learned that there is a big difference listening to live music and to records, and that I must listen far more intently. And I finally realized that I could and must dare to express an opi­nion, to wit my own, arrived at and for­mulated as honestly as I could.

Which brings me to Paul Crossley's Ravel, about which I intend to express an opinion before I end this piece. Mr. Crossley, now 43 years old, has slowly, over a decade or so, impressed himself on my consciousness. I have always assumed him to be a specialist in "modern music," knowing him from his recordings of Stravinsky, Faure, Ravel, and Tippett. (Sir Michael not only dedicated the second sonata to him, but wrote the fourth on sketches made from Crossley's playing.) But I find that perhaps his earliest ap­pearance on records here was in Schubert works with the late Arthur Grumiaux. And the bio in Grove mentions notable perfor­mances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann.

The recording of all of Ravel's solo piano music (concluded with this release) was made in England in 1983 apparently as a warm-up for a similar recital at Covent Garden the following January, popularly regarded with awe as a marathon. Crossley agrees that it is, not in terms of length but in having to switch styles so often. In a nut­shell, he explains, there is the coldly classical Ravel, but there is also a hot­blooded, passionate Ravel. About the recording, I made up my mind with the first disc, but I was reluctant to bare my heart. Having seen recently some rather un­bridled praise of Crossley in another respect, I tracked down a couple of reviews of this effort.

In Fanfare, X:3, James Miller seems not to have been much pleased with the first two volumes. He characterizes Crossley as a "smooth, cautious" pianist, and his play­ing as "cool,'' "emotionally withdrawn," "calculating." Admitting he's never heard the fellow before, he sums up "the kind of pianist who's more likely to inspire ad­miration than excitement." Mr. Miller, meet Mr. Loppert of Grove: "he compen­sates with thoughtful musicianship for what his performances may sometimes lack in excitement" (date 1980). But Max Har­rison, in The Gramophone, LXI:731, is quite delighted, citing the "lovely tone," "virtuosity," "wide dynatnic range," and in particular the scrupulous attention to the composer's demands and the obvious careful study of each piece for its own needs. On the whole I find this quite the most satisfying reading of this music I've encountered, and if I were buying only one record, it would be this one for the incredi­ble performance of "Le tombeau de Couperin."

And now I must go review a festival of 10 handbell choirs.

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