French pianist Bertrant Chamayou made a welcome return to the Wigmore Hall with a chronological overview of works by Maurice Ravel.
Whereas Chamayou has previously impressed audiences and critics with lesser-known pieces from the French repertoire, here he stuck to some of Ravel’s most celebrated compositions, although familiarity didn’t prevent him from making his own mark on these works. Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899), for example, was played as a light-footed courtly dance rather than the usual funereal dirge. Jeux d’eau (1901), too, was humorously playful, reflecting the poetic line (by Henri de Régnier) at the head of Ravel’s score about the ‘river god laughing at the water that tickles him’.
In some ways the neo-classical restraint of the Sonatine (1903-5) is a surprise after the impressionist sparkle of Jeux d’eau. But dig a little deeper, as Chamayou did, and the similarities become apparent. The opening Moderé and closing Animé rippled with fast moving currents, while the central minuet movement recalled the joyous Romanticism of Chabrier and his contemporaries. In Gaspard de la nuit, Chamayou was less fettered by neo-classical restraint, and invested each of the three movements with more characterisation: Ondine recalling the watery harmonies of Jeux d’eau, the sinister darkness of Le gibet, and the mocking cruelty of Scarbo.
In the second half of his recital, Chamayou presented two substantial and contrasting works: Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) and Le tombeau de Couperin. In his hands, the harder harmonies of the Valses seemed softened, with more than a nod towards Schubert and Johann Strauss. But the first and seventh waltzes were played with a stridency, even bitterness, as if pointing towards the destructiveness of the orchestral La Valse of 1920.
As a classicist and heir of Rameau and the French Baroque tradition, Ravel didn’t allow any overt Romanticism or sentimentality to seep into the finished version of Le tombeau de Couperin (1917). Each movement is dedicated to the memory of friends killed during the First World War, and the suite was completed after the devastating death of Ravel’s mother. But it maintains a formal elegance and restraint that belies the painful circumstances of its composition. Chamayou, though, allowed a touch of personal feeling to enter his interpretation, particularly in the wistful Fugue and the quietly anguished Menuet. But there was also plenty of brilliance, particularly in the dizzying Toccata which – justifiably – brought members of the usually settled Wigmore Hall audience to their feet.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.