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Ravel: Tombeau De Couperin; Sonatine; Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte

Ravel / Bessmann
Release Date: 07/13/2010 
Label:  Tutti (Label)   Catalog #: 3000   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RAVEL Sonatine. Mirrors: Oiseaux tristes. Valses nobles et sentimentales. Le Tombeau de Couperin. Pavane pour une infante défunte Claude Bessmann (pn) TUTTI 003 (68:18)

“I was expecting a man and you sent me a woman.” That might be a line from a politically incorrect sitcom in which a female construction worker shows up at the jobsite. My ignorance of the French forms of names caused me to expect Claude Read more Bessmann to be a man, but in fact Claude is one of those names that can be masculine or feminine, and in this case Claude is a lady, and an attractive one at that. I wish I could say the same for this Tutti Records album, which looks to have been made on the cheap with a flimsy foldout sheet for notes almost entirely in French, except for a biographical paragraph on the pianist.

Bessmann is a product of the Paris Conservatory. Significant for this recording is that Bessmann inherited Ravel’s mantle from Vlado Perlemuter with whom she studied the composer’s complete piano works, and that Perlemuter in turn studied them with Ravel. One would therefore expect the direct passing of that torch to have a strong bearing on Bessmann’s insights into this music.

Much of what Ravel originally wrote for piano was subsequently orchestrated and has become more popular today in its orchestral guise. Of the pieces on this disc, that would be true of the “Dead Princess” Pavane, and, I suspect, of the Valses nobles et sentimentales and Le Tombeau de Couperin as well, though piano versions abound.

The Sonatine has a rather amusing story behind it. The only entry submitted for a competition in 1903 sponsored by the Weekly Critical Review magazine, it was disqualified (i.e., there was no winner) because Ravel had exceeded by a few bars the 75-measure limit that had been imposed as a contest requirement. Imagine what would happen to some of our Fanfare reviews (mine especially) if our esteemed editor imposed a similar word-count limitation. Ravel’s revenge was not long in coming; soon after, the magazine went bankrupt. Two years later, Ravel added two more movements to the work, and published it in the form we know it today.

There are so many treasurable recordings of Ravel’s piano works, I wouldn’t know where to start drawing up a comparative list. Cécile Ousset has always been one of my favorite Ravel interpreters, but then I’ve also enjoyed the playing of Pascal Rogé and Jean-Yves Thibaudet in this repertoire, as well as that of Artur Pizzaro on a recent Linn SACD that came very highly recommended by Peter Burwasser in Fanfare 32:3

Equal to or better than is a difficult distinction to make. Claude Bessmann obviously enjoys the compelling cachet of being closely linked to Ravel through her teacher. In listening to this recital, however, I can’t honestly say that her readings of these scores sound any more “Ravelian” than do those of the above-named players, but they are exceptionally finely spun and captured in pristine sound by the recording. She finds just the right tone, be it humorous, sentimental, impressionistic, or neoclassical in each of the pieces, and coaxes from her instrument a panoply of coloristic effects.

If only Tutti Records had put a bit more effort into its program notes—like expanding them and translating them into English—this would receive an unqualified recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonatine for Piano by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Length: 12 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Miroirs: Oiseaux tristes by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1905; France 
Length: 4 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Valses nobles et sentimentales by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; France 
Length: 15 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Le tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1917; orch. 191; France 
Length: 27 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Pavane pour une infante défunte by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Claude Bessmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; France 
Length: 6 Minutes 54 Secs. 

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