Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Ravel’s Bespoke Legerdemain
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Music, part 2
Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood
July 21, 2011
It has become a bit of a commonplace to note that Jean-Yves Thibaudet wears concert outfits designed by the once and future punk couturier Vivienne Westwood. But it was not inappropriate to keep in mind the pianist’s appreciation of eccentrically chic attire during his recital at Tanglewood on Thursday, completing a survey of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano music. Tailoring, after all, demands that stylistic provocation remain grounded in craft and discipline—the coat still has to fit, the material still has to drape, the shape still has to flatter. And if Thibaudet’s Wednesday recital (which I reviewed for the Boston Globe here) focused on Ravel’s jeweler-like side, Thursday’s program portrayed Ravel as a master tailor, expertly stitching bolts of pianistic virtuosity.
It was four kinds of fabric, more or less. The opener, the Pavane pour une infante defunte, joined two: transparent music-box delicacy, and Godowsky-like control over multiple musical strands and ideas in distinct layers, even as the strands change registers, hands, even fingers. Jeux d’eau added a third, those quintessentially Ravellian torrents of liquid passagework, fiendishly fine needlepoint that Thibaudet tossed off with unusual style, lightly pedaled and uncannily smooth.
The first of the Valses nobles et sentimentales brought the final material, one that had only briefly appeared in Wednesday’s recital, but became a prominent feature of Thursday’s: extroverted, muscular abandon, high-wire athleticism. The Valses unfolded in almost modular fashion, the various strategies deployed from waltz to waltz like swatches: silkiness in the second, rapids in the fourth, more roller-coaster daring in the seventh, precise strata in the epilogue.
Thibaudet’s facility with each type of cloth was balanced by his cognizance that, in Ravel’s music, the fabric is not the suit itself: the challenges are merely the medium for the design. Again and again Thibaudet employed Ravel’s technical propensities to accent the structure—subtly highlighting an inner layer of melody, breathless speed giving it momentum, flurries of ornamentation cushioning its landing. Seams were not hidden; Thibaudet’s juxtaposed, Classically-delineated sections and phrases actually emphasized the music’s more modernist contours.
The second half brought increasingly ornate patterns. The Sonatine was a more linear quilt, the fabric gradually changing its weave: the opening movement’s airiness settling into deep-toned juxtapositions, the motives arranged into clear stacks, the finale’s running streams tumbling into a white-knuckled ride.
Gaspard de la nuit, on the other hand, Ravel’s most dazzling essay for the instrument, was downright exponential. The delicacy of “Ondine” was layered into multiple dimensions; the myriad layers of “Le gibet” were each distinct and evenly sustained to the point of disquiet. And in “Scarbo,” Thibaudet unleashed unrelenting speed in precipitous storms, fireworks shot off in dangerous proximity.
His encore, Federico Mompou’s “Jeunes filles au jardin,” cut Ravel-like ideas along more conservative lines; in comparison, Ravel’s tailoring seemed far more daring and provocative, a match for Thibaudet’s outfit, a Westwood-stitched, subtly anarchic patchwork of satin and matte. But the quiet, suddenly muted close of “Scarbo” had also, perhaps, revealed the conscientious craftsman, the smallest sartorial detail finished with exquisite care.
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