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Dark and dreamy visions

05.01.12
Inon Barnatan
BBC Music Magazine

Christopher Dingle hails Inon Barnatan’s Debussy, Ravel and Adès recital

Darkness and light, poems and stories. Pianist Inon Barnatan is fascinated by these aspects of this exceptionally effective programme, as his eloquent liner note reveals. Darknesse Visible, from Adès’s 1992 piece, which itself takes inspiration from Milton and John Dowland. If the title captures the essence of the other works here, Barnatan’s sustaining of the disrupted stillness in Adès’s piece typifies his ability to hold the attention. He occasionally gets a little diverted by exquisite details, yet each is so mesmerizing that the whole is momentarily forgotten. When he returns to the broader perspective, it’s like waking from a dream within a dream.

‘Ondine’, from Gaspard de la nuit, is relatively leisurely; and perhaps the mania underpinning this work could be unleashed a little more at its climaxes. That said, La valse whirls to a suitably uninhibited conclusion. Crucially, Barnatan has an ability, so essential in Ravel, to make the piano sound like some other, utterly fantastical instrument. Such pianism also comes to the fore in his fine performance of Debussy’s Suite bergamasque.

And it’s in Ronald Stevenson’s Fantasy of Peter Grimes that this recital becomes revelatory. The music from Britten’s opera sounds familiar, but, in this guise and context, some passages sound as if they are from Gaspard or Debussy’s Prèludes, while the magical string-plucking in its moonlight music provides a spine-tingling highlight in a wonderful recital.