Recording Ravel

I'm sitting with Jeannie on the plane to Boston, en route to Massachussetts to spend time with her family; her twin nieces were one a couple of days ago so we're catching the tail-end of the birthday celebrations. A long flight like this gives me the first chance in a while to think about writing. It has been a hectic month, the dominant feature of which was three days of recording Ravel solo piano music. Nothing Ravel wrote is easy, even the pieces which sound it; he doesn't seem to know what feels comfortable at the piano. This might well be connected to the fact that he was a pretty mediocre pianist, a fact attested not only by a smattering of recordings (one cannot always rely on early recordings to give an accurate picture), but also contemporary accounts. Yet, perversely, he had an astonishing instinct for the colouristic possibilities of the piano, and while it may not be the most grateful music to learn, it is supremely effective and satisfying to play. Ravel was notoriously defensive in person, capable of being cold and sarcastic even to his good friends, and I think one senses the effect of this defensiveness also in his music. It is not that his music lacks emotion - quite the opposite - but the emotion is often buried under the surface, particularly beneath apparent innocence or playfulness. It is a fascinating solution to the conundrum of how a man who is scared to reveal himself in person can cope with revealing himself through his music, and this conflict produced, in my opinion, some of the most touching and vulnerable music ever written. I've recorded Le Tombeau de Couperin, Sonatine, Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and a bunch of little pieces; I'll record the remainder of his piano works in September for a double CD of his complete piano music to be released early next year.

Since then I've hardly been at home, but for once it's not work-related: I attended a marvellous 3 day birthday party on the Scottish island of Rum (SCO cellist Su-a Lee hired a whole castle for more than 100 of her friends!), and then visited my great friends the Pigotts in Totnes where I helped make little icing men for a swimming pool birthday cake and played the Lego Harry Potter computer game with the kids. It's nice after the intensity of recording to do something brainless!