Inon Barnatan’s Excellent Avie Debut

Inon Barnatan
Classics Today

By Jed Distler

The young Israeli-born, New York-based pianist Inon Barnatan’s debut disc for Avie may well be turn out to be one of 2012’s top solo-piano releases. It opens with a highly distinctive interpretation of Ravel’s oft-recorded Gaspard de la nuit. You can take dictation from Barnatan’s slightly cool yet translucently clear shaping of Ondine, while Le Gibet’s rock-steady gait and carefully contoured textures (the consistency of the tolling repeated B-flats in relationship to their surrounding soft chords) justifies Barnatan’s slowish basic tempo. Unlike the demonic drive and virtuosic panache that Argerich, Pogorelich, and François bring to Scarbo, Barnatan’s relative understatement holds interest by virtue of his refinement of articulation and unusual clarity over the murkier low-register writing.

The latter qualities contribute to an even tighter, more rarified treatment of La Valse than Steven Osborne’s superb recent version, although I still can’t resist Roger Muraro’s smoldering inner voices, sexy subjectivity, and effective textual emendations. Barnatan’s sec touch and witty nuances enliven Suite bergamasque’s dance movements, while the hypnotically sustained Claire de lune gorgeously unfolds in a slow and strictly-held tempo.

It’s good to encounter Ronald Stevenson’s imaginative, pianistically resourceful Fantasy on Britten’s Peter Grimes. Stevenson himself made a splendid recording of it for Altarus that is out of print, but possibly available to stream via YouTube. Barnatan’s equally commanding reading takes the declamatory passages slower and the more animated sections faster. I dare say that I prefer Barnatan’s pianism to that of the composer’s. Similarly in Thomas Adès’ Darknesse Visibile, which is an elaborate deconstruction of the John Dowland song “In darknesse let me dwell”, Barnatan’s incisive treatment of the high-register repeated notes and stronger shaping of the melodic lines scores over Adès’ excellent yet relatively generalized EMI version, although there’s something to be said for Andres Haefliger’s additional starkness and wider dynamic scope. Recommended with pleasure.