The idea for this double disc recording evolved from my affinity for French piano works, specifically those of Debussy and Ravel. At the Frederick Historical Piano Collection, Ashburnham MA, I performed the 24 Préludes of Claude Debussy on an incomparable 1907 Blüthner Grand (Leipzig), similar to the composer’s studio piano (which still exists). The sound produced by this piano may well be as Debussy heard it. What it revealed left me awestruck, and I felt compelled to return and record the complete Préludes. The two-CD set appeared in 2004.
Having admired and performed Ravel’s piano works for decades, I decided on a similar, eventually more involved, project with his music. I returned to the Frederick Collection for a recital and intensive recording sessions of carefully chosen Ravel pieces. My piano of choice was an 1893 Erard, of the same make and model as Ravel’s personal piano. As with Debussy’s Blüthner, the Erard brilliantly expresses the composer’s music, revealing sounds we can believe he wanted listeners to hear. Among many compelling characteristics, the piano’s gorgeous, subtly varied tonal palette from register to register is distinctive and truly inspiring.
My idea then took on a further dimension. I decided to add a second recording of exactly the same works, on a recognizably more modern piano, as a contrast.
My quest for the perfect piano began. Having performed on a number of lovely instruments of varying makes, I could not settle on any one of them. As I traveled with the Ravel program, a fortuitous engagement in Syracuse NY brought me to the 1917 Ivers & Pond Parlor Concert Grand (Boston) on disc 2. It lives at an OASIS center sponsored by Syracuse University, where an annual series of concerts takes place. From my first encounter with this piano, I knew it was the ideal instrument for my project. It produced a full, rich sound, easily varied from register to register, capable of realizing Ravel’s intentions, yet differing strikingly from the Fredericks’ Erard. As with the Erard, I never had a struggle to overcome the limiting uniformity of a modern-era piano. Soon the differences between the pianos became irrelevant. I could relax into the playing, letting the sound reveal Ravel’s intentions.
The result is “Ravel Compared.”
It is my hope that with this recording listeners will recognize and enjoy each piano’s distinct character, and, most of all, gain insight into Ravel’s glorious music.
— Elaine Greenfield