Having recorded the complete Mozart piano sonatas, Heidi Lowy has turned her attention to Ravel. To call the two composers stylistically dissimilar would be the understatement of the year. Nevertheless, one feels that Lowy is as interested in finding out what they have in common as she is in distinguishing between them.
On the basis of her Ravel, I'd pigeon-hole Lowy as a pianist who works on the cool side of the temperature gradient. She's not a musician who has much use for spectacle, or for the emotional manipulation of her listeners. Her playing is calm and intellectual – not at all traditionally "charming," but not lacking in natural grace, either. She's a classicist taking a midnight swim in Impressionist waters, and not really a Romantic at heart. I've often sensed that Ravel didn't want his music to be played too prettily, and it is for that reason that I think he would have liked Lowy's performances, even though they lack the friendliness that one hears in Robert Casadesus and Vlado Perlemuter, for example. Although she has the finesse and power to pull off "Scarbo" from Gaspard de la nuit, for example, she seems content to keep herself reined in, under control, and objective. The one area in which she makes waves is in her bouncy, even bumpy, stop-and-go phrasing, which adds speed bumps to Ravel's musical highway. Her pianism is anything but glib.
Lowy began her studies at Juilliard, and continued them at Oberlin and Eastman. In France, her mentors were Nadia Boulanger and Robert Casadesus. This seems to be proof that great pianists do not necessarily make clones of themselves – nor should they – when they become pedagogues. Lowy concertizes extensively in the United States.
These performances were recorded in May 2002. The engineering is not ideal: the piano's tone is a little clouded, as if Lowy had her foot on the pedal too much. The pianist's clear-eyed interpretations demand a more pellucid sound. On the other hand, the booklet notes are superb – full of literary allusions and insightful parallels.
In summary, Lowy's set brings something new to the Ravel discography without making it necessary to rewrite the history books.
Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle