Poems & Pictures - Gómez-Tagle
Ars Produktion ARS 38 224
Classical - Instrumental
Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit
Schubert trans. Liszt: Der Müller und der Bach & Auf dem Wasser zu singen
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Leticia Gómez-Tagle (piano)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 22, 2017
In her first recording for ARS-Produktion Dance Passion - Gómez-Tagle Leticia Gómez-Tagle had the brilliant idea to bridge Europe and Latin-America in a programme called ‘Dance Passion’. She obviously likes to forge bonds between cultures and culture. And this time it is about connecting ‘Poems & Pictures’. I do like such an approach, not just to avoid a recital like: ‘The Complete Sonatas by Harrioz Radzwally’ *), demanding endless patience from the listener, who might in all probability and depending on the composer’s creative strength be tempted to switch off after listening to 40 minutes of the same, but above all because it adds an extra layer of art.
Can words and pictures be connected to the art of music? Leticia thinks so, and so do I. And no doubt many more. When Beethoven played his sonatas ‘he saw things’, so he said on several occasions. Compositions of Debussy and Fauré are closely connected to impressionist paintings. And how often don’t we describe music in terms of colours and shades? Reason enough to sit down and listen to what she makes of it.
In a personal note about her ‘concept’ Gómez-Tagle says: “For this album I wanted to record two major works of the piano repertoire which I have performed in Concert for many years: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. These two pieces draw their inspiration from artistic fields painting and poetry.” … “In order to balance the two dramatic works, I inserted two transcriptions of Schubert songs … which are also inspired by poetry.”
In her first album she was alone in populating the playing field. Here it’s different: Leaving the Schubert arrangements aside, competition for the two major works is formidable. In France ‘Caspar de la Nuit’ has always been considered a ‘chasse privé’ for French pianists. Vlado Perlemuter (Nimbus NIM 5005), a long-time favourite of mine (and with which I compared Leticia’s reading) springs immediately to mind. But there are others like, more recently, Vincent Larderet, who have taken up the challenge with remarkable success. These three pieces are by no means easy fare, and certainly not for beginners.
Ravel was an extremely clever composer, and one might safely assume that he did all he could to complicate things as much as possible, thus reserving performances of the on Aloysius Bertrand’s poems based triptych, almost exclusively for the most accomplished pianists of his time. And not only for the Perlemutters, but also for the many grand piano icons beyond the French borders.
Several listening sessions led me to conclude that Gómez-Tagle’s sensitive playing, combined with a fair measure of Latin-American temperament, ideally matches Ravel’s fairy tale spirit, which he so impressively produced at the mature end of his creative life. Whilst judiciously keeping the difficult scoring within the scope of her technical skills (Perlemutter takes ‘Scarbo’ in just over 9 minutes as against Gómez-Tagle’s more than 10) she not only ably negotiates the immense difficulties with flair, but in doing so, creates a realistic picture of grim tales and ditto fairies. From my perspective I would not claim that Gómez-Tagle is better than Perlemutter, but she’s nonetheless ‘close’, having at the same time the obvious advantage of a hugely better recording.
Equally accomplished are her Pictures at an Exhibition. For those who may not be fully aware of it: the piano score is the real thing. Ravel arranged it for orchestra, and did it so well that many believe this to be the original. (For the record: A number of prominent conductors tinkered with it as well, there even is a version for piano and orchestra). Richter and Ashkenazy count amongst the old and established performers, and in the hi-res domain we find modern recordings by Freddy Kempf (BIS), which was well received; Sa Chen (Pentatone), not so well, and Kyrill Gerstein (Myrios), whose reading is sadly without a review. What can Gómez-Tagle add to this?
First of all: ‘vision’. And in doing so, she lets the listener walk with her from one picture to another as though she says: “Now look at this one”. Carefully shading the tenor of the ‘promenade’ each time she walks to the next. She skillfully creates anticipation and even suspense of what is to come. I find that a most extraordinary part of her guided tour in Mussorgsky’s virtual museum. Sometimes elegantly and then again resolutely moving forward. But the pictures, too, are so realistically illuminated that one can actually ‘see’ them. Take for example ‘The Market of Limoges’, full of French discussing daily gossip as only the French can do: with lots of disordered twittering.
The pictures are supposed to depict the mostly spiritual facets of life. The only mystery picture is No. 4: ‘Bydło’ or ‘Cattle’ (track 12) with the piano, starting, as indicated by the composer, with throbbing fortissimo, admittedly suggesting a lumbering oxcart passing by, but hiding another, probably real one. But in order to steer clear from official Russian criticism (see also the liner notes) Mussorgsky deleted the original name: ‘Sandomirsko Bydło’ (Sandomierz is a historical town on the Vistula River in South-East Poland), as its history is connected with Russian gunfire in the market place (and one may guess who in that case the cattle were).
In the face of the stiff competition, Leticia Gómez-Tagle does an excellent job. I, for one, have hugely enjoyed her Poems & Pictures, whereby the two Schubert songs, as arranged by Franz Liszt, stand out as an especially charming go between. Both texts are provided in German and English, as are the texts for the three poems by Ravel, translated from and added to the French original.
*) I did Google the name Harrioz Radzwally without result. But should such a composer (have) exist(ed) than I do apologise; it’s only meant as a ‘by way of speaking’.
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