This set from 1977 has always contained very satisfying readings without one single reservation as regards performance. The problem, starting with the LP versions, was a recording quality that was wooden and shallow and cut at a very low level. This turned an excellent set into an un-listenable set.
The next encounter with some parts of this set came as EMI used some of the items to fill out their award winning pair of the Ravel concertos with Maazel conducting on the CD version. The sound of the two concertos was strikingly real, state of the art quality, and the solo piano extras were clearly no better than the previous disappointing production.
Now the good news ......
This new mastering of the set has solved all the previous problems and has finally revealed Collard's set in its full glory. This now, for me, leaps to the top of the desirable list. No more wooden sound, no more shallowness, no more low cut sound levels.
Collard's versions of these works has none of the emotional coolness and Gallic reserve plus some percussiveness that is an inbuilt feature of his fellow countryman, Thibaudet. He has the clarity and warmth of the much admired Bavouzet but now he also has the better sound. Angela Hewitt on Hyperion, taking a well-earned break from her award winning Bach survey, provides the best alternative view by bringing just a little more crystalline clarity and a little less warmth to her vision. She is not so much a competitor so much as a complementary view.
In terms of two disc complete sets I would suggest that this very reasonably priced set by Collard in its new mastering now arguably leads the field. I would suggest also the Angela Hewitt provides the perfect foil if there is a need for just a little more objectivity, but not too much. Bavouzet is also very good but both Collard and Hewitt have the better recordings.
This pair of discs, very realistically recorded in 2003 on a 1901 Steinway, exhibit all the favourable characteristics of Bavouzet to be found copiously in his extensive coverage of Debussy's piano music which followed this set. The sound of the 1901 piano takes us closer to the sounds envisaged by Ravel than a modern piano.
Bavouzet brings a clear modern approach to these works but without any of the Gallic reserve or coolness to be found elsewhere in such favoured recordings such as that by Thibaudet. Nor does he bring the level of drama and excitement that Ashkenazy provides in his very Russian but satisfying alternative readings for example.
Bavouzet has a warmth of expression and touch that stops short of any form of personal intervention between himself and the written note. On the face of it there is a similarity between Bavouzet and Thibaudet in their quest for unbiased accuracy and faithfulness to the score. However there is a marked difference in the 'temperature' or warmth of their actual playing that makes the two players really very different in their musical effect. I choose these two pianists for comparison simply because they are both French, both modern and their discs appeared within a relatively short time of each other, in effect the same recorded generation.
Without going into a detailed analysis of these discs, piece by piece, I would suggest that Bavouzet provides the human face of Ravel rather like he has done with the music of Debussy. This is not idiosyncratic playing but an obvious attempt to give us what Ravel wrote but delivered with warm affection.
In conclusion I would suggest that this complete two disc survey of Ravel's solo piano music by Bavouzet deserves serious consideration from collectors interested in either an 'only' version or those interested in multiple comparative versions.
These discs are as good a presentation of Ravel's piano works as the enthusiast is likely to get. The selection is very generous and. over two discs there is little of Ravel's music for piano that is not present, extremely well played and recorded. My particular favourites - Gaspard De La Nuit and Valses Nobles Et Sentimentalis (the latter amongst the greatest music written for the piano) - demand repeated listening, and it is refreshing to hear the pavane pour une infant defunte in its non-orchestral version. The discs come at a very generous price and in the regular two disc case. A most satisfactory purchase.
Maurice Ravel's (1875 -- 1937)compositions for solo piano are not extensive, but almost all his works have become part of the standard repertoire. Ravel's piano music fits comfortably on a two-CD compilation. There are many available recordings, but I found this budget-priced reissue by Jean-Philippe Collard is an excellent way to get to know Ravel's piano music. Collard (b. 1948) is a French pianist who is known for his interpretations of French music, especially Saint-Saens and Faure. This CD of Ravel was initially released in 1978 and rereleased in 2005. A review of this CD on answers.com upon its reissue aptly stated that "the playing of Jean-Philippe Collard has a lot to recommend it, particularly in the way it is so naturally expressive. ...Collard's use of dynamics and pedal to color the mood and character of each piece never sounds forced or artificial, nor does he ever sacrifice momentum or expression."
Ravel's piano music is often compared to that of Debussy, but it has its own character. Ravel's piano works are almost always descriptive and programmatic. It has an elegance and a distinct rigor. Ravel drew inspiration from many composers, including his French predecessors Faure and Chabrier and the French baroque clavecinists. Much of his music is notoriously difficult to play. Ravel's harmonies are distinctive and the music often shimmers.
Collard plays this music expressively indeed, capturing the many glissandos, arpeggios, soft moving passages, and intricate pedaling that characterize Ravel's scores. The CD begins with Ravel's youthful short piece, "Serenade grotesque" (1895) and proceeds through "Le Tombeau de Couperin" (1917).
Collard does especially well with Ravel's collection of eight waltzes, "Valses nobles et sentimentales" which owes its inspiration to Schubert's short waltzes but with harmonies that are Ravel's own. This collection begins with a vigorous opening waltz, but the remainder of the collection is largely delicate and restrained. The final waltz called "Epilogue" recapitulates some or the earlier musical material.
My favorite work on this CD was "La Tombeau de Couperin" which Ravel composed as a tribute to his beloved French clavecinists, who frequently wrote "Tombeaux" as elegies. Ravel's work includes three classical dance movements, marked "forlane", "Rigaudon" and "Menuet", a fugue, a prelude, and a famously difficult concluding toccata. In this music, Ravel celebrates nostalgically the elegance and lightness of a world that is no more -- both the world of the French baroque and the world of six of his friends who died in WW I.
Ravel's "Miroirs" is a harbinger of Twentieth Century music. This piece includes five deeply idiosyncratic and elusive movements describing a flight of night moths, sad birds in a forest, a ship sailing on the ocean and a valley of softly tolling bells. The famous fourth movement, "Alborado de gracioso" is of a different character as Ravel portrays energetically a jester. The movement is in the form of a Spanish dance.
Gaspard de la nuit is another programmatic work, virtuosic and often performed. Ravel set three poems by Aloysius Bertrand which portray a water sprite, a criminal hanging from the gallows -- with a piano part that captures the swing -- and, in a virtuosic movement, the antics of a dwarf named Scarbo.
The short three movement "sonatine" consists of three interrelated movements with Ravel's distinctive harmonies, and a light, elegant texture. This work is Ravel at his most classical.
Those listeners who love Ravel will have their own choice performers of his music. For those listeners without much detailed exposure to this composer, Collard's recording is an excellent place to start.
I have had this CD for a long time now, going on 5 years probably and I can honestly say that never before have I heard such delicacy in the playing of Ravel's piano music. Collard, being such a master of French music, knows how to bring out the essence of Ravel in his performance. Of particular note is his performance of Jeux D'Eau (the piece that got me interested in Ravel in the first place). There is not a bad word I can say on this product. Thoroughly recommended!
Like many of Amazon reviewers I am not really competent to offer a professional review of "Classical" music- I can't tell B sharp from A flat- but this record is a stonker. There is an odd squeak, but read the notes, you maybe think Ravel is too modern to be played on original instruments? There is just enough music here to give two full discs, some of which is bound to be familiar. I hesitate to say whether this would make a definitive Ravel set, simply because I've not heard them all, nor even most of them, but Bavouzet sounds like a pianist with personality but not idiosycracy. Before CDs took over I had five LPs of Gaspard de la Nuit so querks in this piece at least would jar- they don't, this has no impression of sounding the way an unfamiliar recording can, it is quite natural and "right", excellent sound, a consistent "personality" without being eccentric- I hear Bavouzet has a Debussy disc out now, if Amazon stock it I will buy one immediately on the strength of his Ravel.