The works on the CD are: Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit and La valse, opening and closing the CD respectively; Thomas Adès's Darknesse Visible, from which the recording takes its name; Debussy's Suite Bergamasque; and Ronald Stevenson's Fantasy on Peter Grimes, based on themes from Benjamin Britten's opera.
Mr. Barnatan, described by the London's Evening Standard as "a true poet of the keyboard", explains why he chose the CD title: "When British composer Thomas Adès titled his piano piece Darknesse Visible he was remembering two towering English figures: John Milton, who used the phrase "Darkness Visible" to describe the fires of hell in his epic poem, "Paradise Lost", as well as John Dowland, on whose song of 1610, In Darknesse Let Me Dwell, Adés based his own piano piece. Adés's piece highlights the Dowland song not by illuminating it, but rather by emphasizing its darkest qualities. With a simple change of spelling (Darknesse instead of Darkness) Adés alludes to both Milton and Dowland, and thus simultaneously suggests the inspiration and its transformation. The title represents some of the aspects I find most fascinating about the music on this album. All the pieces are inspired by stories or poems; and in all of them the dark and the light are intertwined."
In his liner notes for the recording (abridged below), Mr. Barnatan outlines the literary origins and inspirations of the other works on the recording. To further illustrate the themes of the works on this recording, Mr. Barnatan is collaborating with videographer Tristan Cook and artist Zach Smithey on a series of short video vignettes that will be available to view at the time of release in April at www.inonbarnatan.com and on YouTube.
Israeli-born, New York-based Inon Barnatan moved to the United States in 2006 and has rapidly gained international recognition for engaging and communicative performances that pair insightful interpretation with impeccable technique. In 2009 he was awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, an honor reflecting the strong impression he has made on the American music scene in such a short period of time.
Mr. Barnatan performs internationally with orchestras, in recital, and is an avid and popular chamber musician. He will perform recitals of the Darknesse Visible repertoire throughout the 2012-13 season, including at the Ravinia Music Festival (August 26) and at the 92nd Street Y in New York City (December 6).
This summer Mr. Barnatan will return to the Berlin Philharmonie performing Chausson's concerto for piano and violin with Janine Jansen on June 18, and he will make his Hollywood Bowl debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Bramwell Tovey performing Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals on September 6. Other summer festival performances include the opening concert of the Aspen Music Festival with its new music director Robert Spano, his debut with Dallas Symphony at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival and performances at the Spoleto Festival USA , the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, Music@Menlo and La Jolla SummerFest. For a full concert calendar please visit www.inonbarnatan.com or his Facebook fan page.
Darknesse Visible - Liner Notes (abridged)
Gaspard de la nuit
Maurice Ravel was absorbed by the works of writers who shared his fascination with the dark and fantastic, such as Edgar Allen Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Charles Baudelaire. Gaspard de la nuit, which roughly translates as Treasurer of the Night, is a collection of poems by the French poet Aloysius Bertrand, and the gothic and haunting quality of the poems found an immediate echo with Ravel, who wrote his own suite of 'piano poems' in 1908. In Gaspard, Ravel creates one of the most remarkable relationships between words and music in the history of instrumental writing, as he enhances the poems and brings their scenes to life more vividly than if they were happening before our eyes.
The poem Clair de lune by Paul Verlaine, and its dreamy and enchanting masked figures dancing in the moonlight, inspired Debussy to write Suite Bergamasque in 1890. He enclosed his justly famous rhapsody on the poem with three movements in a style of a Baroque suite - a prelude and two dances, a minuet and a passepied. The darkness and the moonlight form an idyllic scene, yet Verlaine's poem speaks of costumed dancing figures who are 'almost sad' beneath their fantastic disguises. Accordingly, Debussy brings nostalgia and a tinge of melancholy even to these light-hearted dances - a quality he shares with Schubert, who often smiles through tears.
Fantasy on Peter Grimes
A poem was also the inspiration for Benjamin Britten's masterful opera, Peter Grimes. George Crabbe's poem The Borough, adapted to a libretto by Montagu Slater, contains the story of Peter Grimes, an English fisherman who is driven to suicide after two of his apprentices die in mysterious circumstances. Britten explores the dark side of Man, the frightening certainty with which Grimes's fellow villagers turn against him and their relentlessness in pursuing him to his end. In 1971, 26 years after the opera's triumphant post-war premiere, British composer Ronald Stevenson created a short, compelling fantasy on themes from the opera, and provided grateful pianists with a rare opportunity to play the music of Britten, who wrote surprisingly little for his own instrument. The imaginative evocation of plucked strings at the end of the piece is particularly powerful.
In La valse, Ravel created a piece at once charming and malevolent, a waltz that emerges out of the mists and works itself into a delirious frenzy. Many have suggested a parallel between Ravel's piece of 1919-20 and a Gothic short story from 1842 by Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death, in which a prince throws parties while his people are dying from the Red Death, before Death pays a visit to the prince himself. 'We are dancing on the edge of a volcano', Ravel wrote in his notes to La valse, both paraphrasing a nervous politician in post-revolution France and reflecting the troubled tenor of his own times. As the waltz spirals towards an ecstatic and maniacal end, the darkness is, plainly, visible.