Any recording by the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard
is a major event, and although new arrivals have been more frequent lately, they certainly haven't worn out their welcome. That's especially true with this recital of works by Maurice Ravel and Elliott Carter, which marks Aimard's return to the 20th century after proving his flair for the Beethoven piano concertos. The unusual pairing of Ravel and Carter makes perfect sense in Aimard's hands. His performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit
is as special as you'd expect after hearing his Debussy
. No blurry impressionism here: "Ondine," the first movement of this capricious trilogy, is refined like a precision-cut gem rather than darting in and out of shimmering waterfalls. After the solemn unfolding of the dark colors of "Le Gibet," Aimard's concluding "Scarbo" is breathtakingly volatile but always controlled. There's a vicarious thrill we get from hearing a pianist pushed to the very limits of his technique -- such a performance can seem truly dangerous -- but that's the one charge we never get from Aimard: His technique is so superior that it's hard to imagine where its limits might be. Turning to Carter's Night Fantasies
-- which picks up on a nocturnal theme also present in Gaspard
-- Aimard illuminates this absorbingly thorny work with his trademark clarity, as he does also for the shorter recent works by Carter that conclude the program. Although Aimard's Ravel will be this album's principal draw for many listeners, his Carter provides the most persuasive introduction imaginable to the composer's piano music, enhanced by Aimard's 25-minute explanation of the music's finer points, delivered on a bonus disc.