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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Langage des Fleurs
Prélude [1:17]
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales [16:45]
Le Tombeau de Couperin [25:22]
A la manière de Borodine [1:48]
A la manière de Chabrier [2:15]
Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn [1:50]
Pavane pour une Infante défunte [5:57]
Sonatine [12:51]
Ann Martin-Davis (piano)
rec. 2019, Domaine Musical de Pétignac, Val des Vignes, France
GUILD GMCD7825 [68:42]

Ann Martin-Davis’s approach to Ravel is light, airy, often quite playful, and always sharply-defined. The Prélude to Le Tombeau de Couperin is typical of her approach, delicately, fluttering fingerwork, minimum pedal, and a clarity of texture which removes any hint of that kind of misty pseudo-Impressionism so many pianists bring to this music. Michal Ponder’s recording is wholly sympathetic to this approach with a sharp focus and immediacy which leaves no room for atmosphere or elusiveness. It takes some getting used to, especially indoctrinated as those of us who listen on an almost weekly basis to new recordings of this kind of repertory are, but while we might miss the sense of mystique and vagueness others feel is an obligatory stylistic hallmark of Ravel’s piano music, after a while I find this clear, unfussy and texturally direct approach in its own way very endearing. At the very least, the Fugue from Le Tombeau de Couperin reveals its Baroque imagery exceptionally strongly, while the concluding Toccata has a sparkling energy to it with impeccably crisp figurations articulated with great precision.

It is perhaps a shame that Michael J. Puri, writer of the extensive booklet notes, seems not to have previously heard what Martin-Davis made of this music, for his description of the Waltz as “long associated with erotic desire” does not fit in at all with this dry, almost hands-off approach to the Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. There again, the pianist’s own words do not seem to equate with her playing; her essay in the booklet refers to the “colour and sensuality” of Ravel’s music – qualities which are not immediately apparent from this playing. Puri does, however, point out that the works in this programme are linked by being “neoclassical” (which goes some way to justifying Martin-Davis’s approach), and he gives a fulsome explanation for the title of this disc, for the Valses Nobles et Sentimentales was used as the music for a ballet called Adélaïde or The Language of Flowers. For her part, Martin-Davis claims an ancestral connection with Ravel; her teacher, Phyllis Sellick, had come to know the composer during her time studying in Paris.
 
One thing which runs through the whole package here is Martin-Davis’s sense of ownership of this music. She is clearly very much in command of what she feels it should say and is not swayed by external notions of taste and stylistic appropriateness. Once or twice I find her approach just a shade too dry – A la manière de Borodine lacks a sense of affection, while the heavy projection of the Haydn motiv in the Menuet sur le nom de Haydn lacks subtlety. Against that, however, there is a gorgeously laid-back feel to the Pavane pour une Infante défunte, and I think you would need to look long and hard before finding a more enticing and perceptive performance of the Sonatine.
 
Marc Rochester



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