Fables – Maurice Ravel; Barbara Assiginaak
ATMA ACD2 2843 (atmaclassique.com/en)
Indigenous issues are an important topic in Canada today and Canadian pianist Philip Chiu addresses their significance on this ATMA recording by pairing music by Maurice Ravel with that of Anishinaabekwe composer Barbara Assiginaak. Inaugural winner of the Mécénat Musica Prix Goyer, Chiu has made a name for himself as both soloist and chamber musician. His musical partners have included Emmanuel Pahud and Raphael Wallfisch.
The disc opens with the Ravel String Quartet in F, composed in 1903. A truly beautiful work, the quartet is considered by many to be among the finest in the repertoire and this transcription by Lucien Gurban (and further adapted by Chiu) is exemplary. Indeed, the listener could easily be deceived into thinking it was originally scored for solo piano. Throughout, Chiu does it full justice, his approach as poised and elegant as the music itself. The frenetic finale is a true tour de force, with the young artist demonstrating a formidable technique.
Assiginaak’s piece Mnidoonskaa (A Multitude of Insects), composed in 2021, is a perfect companion. Inspired by Indigenous teachings, the work – the first of two collections of short pieces – is in five movements and pays homage to those tiny creatures that are often unseen or simply ignored. Movements such as Water Striders and Mosquito Larvae are highly atmospheric – true examples of 21st-century impressionism – while the brief third movement One Certain Mosquito Sings, is hauntingly lyrical.
Concluding the disc is Ravel’s familiar Ma mère L’Oye (Mother Goose) as arranged for piano by Jacques Charlot. Here, Chiu evokes a true fantasy world, his playing refined and sensitively articulated, from the mysterious opening Pavane to the majestic Jardin Féerique.
These are fine fables indeed – engaging repertoire beautifully performed – how could we ask for more?