Aimard and Boulez give a strong account of the first, more forceful than the norm, and the pianist’s technique is astonishing. I have never heard the cadenza sound more like two hands than in this performance. Their G major concerto is less successful. Boulez is on record as disliking the work, finding it “dated” because of the influence of 1920s jazz. To today’s audience the mild syncopation and “blue” harmonies are nothing more than an exotic colour, no more dated than the ländler flavour in Mahler or the folksong influence in Vaughan Williams. In any case, these two great musicians miss the point of the piece. There is no fun to be had in the first movement and the third movement is pedestrian. The wistful slow movement fares better, but the temperature remains cool with more mind than heart involved. Sound is excellent, although the live recording reveals an imperfection of ensemble once or twice – unheard of in a Boulez performance! Aimard plays the solo suite Miroirs with precision and brilliance, but again aims to dig beneath the surface when it is the impressionistic surface that matters most. Boulez recorded the Ravel concertos in 1999 with Krystian Zimerman, whose patrician polish paid greater dividends. Other discs featuring Larrocha (Eloquence) and Thibaudet (Decca) offer better value for money and more sympathetic readings. Stick with them.
Have you ever wondered what happens inside a piano when you press down a key? Producer Matthew Lorenzon takes us behind the scenes of ABC Classic’s new video series, How a Piano Works.