Taste of Ravel

I’ve been digging into the music of Maurice Ravel a bit more in anticipation of a Perlman recital we’re attending toward the end of April.  In addition to works by Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Schumann, Perlman will play Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in G Major. The piece is clearly influenced by Jazz, which French composers were exploring in earnest in the early 20th century.  The sonata, composed between 1923 and 1927, came about prior to Ravel’s own first trip to the US, during which he passionately explored the country’s jazz scene; that trip didn’t happen until the 1930s.

I’ve just purchased an Anne Akiko Meyers (violin) and Li Jian (piano) 2006 album that contains the work.  The album is a treasure-trove of impressionistic/Jazz influenced pieces for the two instruments; in addition to the Ravel it includes works by Satoh, Debussy, Messiaen, and Takemitsu.  I started learning about the Ravel sonata on Youtube a week ago, but, as I’ve found many times, albums are definitely the way to go.  This recording well-highlights the dynamic and tonal variations in the piece.  Meyers and Jian fit perfectly together – as with the Ravel, all the album’s works require a delicate dance between the instruments.

In the Ravel, the first movement lays out melodic themes infused with a touch of dissonance – the violin and the piano exchange both barbs and flowers.  The second movement begins with a light pizzicato and heads quickly into what are obviously jazz explorations – the jazz stylings are foregrounded by the deft manner in which Meyers and Jian choose to play.  The third movement seems to integrate the first two, winding up to an emotional and goose-bump inducing frenzy that leaves me wanting another minute or so of the same.

In general, I’ve shied away from modern composers (technically the likes of Ravel and Debussy are more romantic) – but I’ve known that I’ve done so largely out of ignorance and undeveloped taste.  This album and composers like Ravel are helping me along.

Thanks for reading.


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