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CD Feature/ Tzimon Barto: "Ravel - Gaspard de la Nuit, Mirroirs"

img  Tobias

Any artist knows that he’s in trouble as soon as his audience starts asking for beauty. Neither is it clear what this word actually means in general terms (Pleasant? Serene? Subtle and well-proportioned? Harmonic? etc), nor is evoking it something he can actively influence. The sensation of beauty occurs within the listener, not the music, and mostly relates to a deep emotional and spiritual closeness to the piece being performed, one which happens suddenly and unexpectedly and makes the spectator feel a warm glow and a sense of stillness. Wherever the public expects this to happen, the artists can only fail – after all, he can merely stay true to his own ideals, analyses, preperations, view of the composer’s intent and emotions. Leaving that path would mean trying to beat beauty out of the fragile body of a work. Needless to say this rather ends in tragedy and pain than in transcendence and glory. Tzimon Barto’s last two albums (this one included) show exactly how magic can happen – namely by penetrating the intellectual and superficial shell of the music and by catering to its individual requirements and demands.

Barto's toolbox: Creating a necessary effect
In other words, to Barto, there is no clear-cut recipe and that is what distinguishes him from the fold. While there are leagues of pianists who try to develop their very own “tone” and “sound”, he adjusts his intonation to the situation at hand. Of course, you can recognise Barto’s handwriting – of course, he, too, has his idiosyncracies and whims – his flowing crescendos, the way he likes to linger in the more sound- than harmony-related passages and the courage with which he stretches certain segments into almost unfathomable depths. But they are to him what a tool box is to a mechanic – techniques which can be used to achieve a certain necessary effect, but never means of their own. On his previous CD with the Finnish Ondine label, he sought and found a crystalline clearness with a finely shimmering surface in Rameau’s music without creating glittering kitch. It landed him one of the most applauded Classical albums of last year. With his new compilation of Ravel works, the task was an entirely different one.

Waking up the reveries

Divided into two blocks of interrelated tracks (“Gaspard de la Nuit” and “Mirroirs”) as well as an encore for desert (“Jeux d’eau”), the disc features both Ravel’s most obviously impressionist music as well as some of his most excrutiatingly difficult technical wizzardries. Which means that mood-whise things range from the darkly compelling “Le Gibet” to the nine minutes of “Scarbo”, a piece about “demonical obsession” as the booklet so nicely puts it and one especially written with the intent of surpassing Balakirev’s “Islamey” in artistic demands. Excluding the nervously perpetuated frenzy and lyrical self-strangulations of the latter as well as the wave-like swiftness of the concluding “Jeux d’eau”, it is however the dreamy moments that hold the upperhand. Like absent-minded record players lost in endless loops, some of the motives repeat themselves in circular motion, helplessy entangled in their own web of hazy narcism. Whatever your concept of beauty – conveying pleasantness, serenity, subtlety or well-adjusted proportions – it will most likely be a part of the score. One could be inclined to say that even a cat jumping to Ravel’s notations could bring out their beauty, which points to the immanent danger: Every touch of the pianist’s finger will only destroy this holy moment, tear the fragile fabric of its flimsy spiderweb apart. So the aim can only be to take one step back and wake up these delicate reveries, right when they’re about to enter a cul de sac or before their flavour gets too sweet. Barto is, if you like, in the position of a master of meditation, gently hitting his pupils’ heads when their thoughts start straying off. As is so often the case, these strokes don’t go to interrupt the experience, but rather intensify it.

Tzimon Barto is no stranger to the programmatic character of these works – if that is the right word for pieces which often only try to capture certain aspects of a scene, the way your memory works selectively as well: If “A Basket of Wild Strawberries” took listeners to a marble zen garden in the morning, this one leads them to the sea as a place where they instinctively feel at home: You can see a boat out on the ocean, the waves rippling, birds mournfully flapping their wings, clouds passing by, the horizon drawing nearer. As long as you don’t bate for beauty or expect this magical moment to happen to you, too, there is a good chance that it will.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Tzimon Barto
Homepage: Ondine Records

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