In 1999 Boulez released a coupling of the two Ravel piano concertos with Krystian Zimerman. The filler then was a set of the Valses nobles et sentimentales; here it is a set of Miroirs. Overlaps are numerous in the classical catalog, of course, so I suppose this one represents a desire to promote Aimard, who has had an increasing presence on the yellow label. Everything is in order, with a world-class orchestra, a fine-sounding piano, and excellent recorded sound. The soloist and conductor are like-minded in their cool, detailed approach that shortchanges emotional gestures, but in the bargain are they short on wit and personal involvement, too?
I suppose the answer depends on your expectations and not a little bit on your culture. The French appreciate clarity, detail, and refinement as hallmarks of musical style in almost everything, up to and including Mahler. The Left-Hand Cto. is full of strange sonorities and odd juxtapositions: it moves from the stygian gloom of the opening to a Bolero-like hypnotic march with impertinent trombone slides and jazzy quips along the way. I find Aimard a little too stiff and unwilling to exploit the strangeness of the score, but it's a matter of taste. His left hand is prodigiously adept, and Boulez provides a powerful, alert accompaniment. At 85 he seems preternaturally animated and youthful.
The G major has been done with more wit, panache, and attack than what we get from this CD. Aimard plays this jazz piece straight, and Boulez goes along, but in terms of nuance and musical detail, this is a platinum-grade performance. One expects nothing less. Yet I was left wondering if Ravel needs to be made dignified. The whole thing felt like Rhapsody in blue played by a Juilliard graduate. as far as Miroirs goes, let me confess to not being a fancier of Ravel's solo piano works. I picked one number form the set, the famous Alborada del gracioso, and compared a few versions with this new one. My first impression had been that Aimard was strait-laced and not remotely Spanish in mood. Quite true if you listen to the puckish pointed playing of Alexandre Theraud. Dinu Lipatti's reading all but leaps out of the speakers to grab your attention; it is also considerably faster than Aimard's. only Jacques-Yves Thibaudet mirrored Aimard's more careful, serious approach; neither is fun or exciting.
In the end, this CD reinforced by idea of Aimard as an undeniably superior musician who has real limits when it comes to letting himself go. But I can see how other listeners would be impressed all around.