Giacometti’s Ravel: Érard vs. Steinway

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

For his first Ravel release, Paolo Giacometti offers an identical program on two separate SACDs. One disc features an Érard grand of similar vintage to the composer’s own instrument of the same make, while the other utilizes a modern Steinway. The pianist’s booklet notes accurately describe each instrument’s timbral characteristics, with the Érard’s more “stringy” sound, quicker dying away of resonance, and individual sonority in different registers, which differs from the Steinway’s “mélange” of notes and more equable blend. It also should be mentioned, however, that the venues and sonics also factor in to one’s perceptions; the Érard was recorded in a church using Channel Classics’ standard piano engineering plan, while the more distantly miked Steinway inhabits a larger space.

Likewise, the performances differ more in detail than overall design. For example, Gaspard de la nuit’s opening Ondine movement unfolds in a smooth and straightforward manner on the Steinway, but the Érard reading boasts sharper accents and more pronounced dynamic contrasts. The Érard also offers more colorful differentiation than the Steinway between the muted “stringy” chords and protruding repeated B-flats in Le Gibet. Conversely, the deliberate and scrupulously phrased Menuet antique benefits more from the Steinway’s luminous legato capabilities, while Giacometti’s arpeggios and rotary passagework in the Sonatine’s Animé appear more supple and suave on the Steinway.

For my ideal Giacometti performance of Le Tombeau de Couperin, I choose the Érard for the Prélude’s more pronounced contrasts between the hands and the Toccata’s more forceful repeated notes. On the other hand, the Steinway Forlane movement seems more fluid and less sectionalized next to its Érard counterpart. In all, an absorbing and often inspired release.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: RAVEL: COMPARED - ÉRARD VS. STEINWAY VOL. 1
Reference Recording: Abbey Simon (Vox); Jean-Eflam Bavouzet (MDG); Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Decca)

  • RAVEL, MAURICE:
    Sonatine; Gaspard de la nuit; Menuet antique; Le Tombeau de Couperin

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