Ravel, Piano Music: (“A Box of Ravel”), Stewart Goodyear, piano (likely Steinway D, #590904, NY, c. 2011); Orchid Classics ORC 100061, © 2017, TT 68:32. $14.99 (Arkiv Music ).

Although I have recommended numerous complete traversals of Maurice Ravel’s music for piano in Appendix B of my long, five-part article about the five great French pianist-composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (1835 [b. of Saint-Saëns] – 1937 [d. of Ravel]), I have also collected recital CDs of the music of some of them over the years, often adding new ones by young, up-&-coming pianists, and occasionally finding real gems among them (some of which I’ve reviewed in these pages). For Ravel, however, it has rarely seemed worthwhile to do so, because from such a recital to a complete traversal adds only one major work. But this one struck me as one on which I should take a chance to make the acquaintance of a new artist, and it proved instantly to be something very special that demands a separate write-up.

Canadian native and Canadian- (Toronto’s Royal Conservatory) and US- (Curtis, and Juilliard) trained pianist Stewart Goodyear, who made his initial reputation with Beethoven sonata-thons (all 32 in 1 day), has since moved on to other composers, with this release being a recent extension. He has put together a program of many of the Ravel works in the standard repertoire in a mostly chronological order, but with a slight variation to create a satisfying program with inter-connections, opening and closing with single-movement works surrounding three multi-movement ones, that almost tells a story and is the epitome and the essence of Ravel’s piano music, and, while he loved the orchestra, and his orchestrations were magnificent (Think his own Bolero and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.), the piano was his instrument.

It opens with the 1901 Jeux d’eau, proceeds to the 1905 Sonatine, then to its contemporary Miroirs, and on to his 1908 Gaspard de la Nuit, concluding with the earliest (1899) Pavane pour une infante défunte (with the final ‘e’ of « infante ]» missing in the tray card track list, alas, perhaps the result of a computer spell-check program? MS Word’s does that to me all the time if I’m inserting a French word into an English text, and sometimes it reinserts that ‘correction’ after I have repaired the damage!; it is correct in the booklet one). He explains his ordering in his fine autobiography-based program note that is also tinged with some humor in the accompanying booklet, which bears the title in the listing above that is not on its cover; he’s playing on Forrest Gump’s ‘box of chocolates’ throughout his essay.

Goodyear’s playing is exquisite and ultra-appropriate to the composer’s style, as stated in print and displayed in his remaining recordings: controlled, quiet, reserved, restrained, and sensitive, not extravagant, exuberant, flamboyant, loud, or overblown, hence my choice of words for the title of the review. Ravel was notoriously a fastidious and meticulous person and stated very clearly how he wanted his music to be played; Goodyear seems to have understood it far better than some pianists who have built their reputations on their interpretations of it, on this side of the Atlantic, at least. He manages to display a superb diversity across the registers – a feat on any modern instrument, all of which are designed and built to suppress that and create a unity across them, because that’s easier to handle – and he does this with an incredible control of the dynamics, mostly remaining in the p to f range, with some occasional doubles, and a rare triple of both for accent.

I recognized and sensed this instantly on the first hearing, and numerous repeated ones have not changed my assessment one iota, but only refined my perception and increased my appreciation of its assets. It’s some of the finest playing of Ravel on a modern instrument I’ve ever heard, on a recording or live. My sole desiderata would be that he had performed it on an Érard of the early 20th century, which is the instrument on and for which it was all written, and where diversity across the registers is a built-in feature/goal. If he wants to come up my way, I can take him to one similar to Ravel’s (See Appendix A, also in Pt 3 of the aforementioned article) that is still in his home, now the Musée Maurice Ravel in Montfort-l’Amaury, SW of Paris, at the N end of the Forêt de Rambouillet. His music incontrovertibly sounds better with its warmer, more resonant sonority. You owe it to yourself to treat yourself to this CD, for a treat it truly is.