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Maurice Ravel

Sunset in a small French village. The town is quiet, kissed by the last rays of the setting sun. Behind the cottages, laundry flaps in the gentle evening breeze. Twisting curls of smoke rise from chimneys. In the distance, a church bell tolls. Leaves scuttle across the courtyard, which is empty save for a dying man swinging from the gallows. As the rest of the villagers go about their daily business, he raises his darkening eyes for one final glimpse of the sun, and listens to his death knell.

This is the scene French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) evokes in "Le Gibet" ("the gallows"), one of three macabre piano pieces that comprise Gaspard de la Nuit, Trois Poemes pour Piano d'apres Aloysius Bertrand. Ravel composed this sinister triad after reading the dark, fantastic poetry of Aloysius Bertrand's (the other two pieces are based on the Bertrand poems "Ondine," about a wayward sea nymph, and "Scarbo," about a demonic gnome). Ravel augments the unsettling mood of 'Le Gibet' with repeated use of the B-flat, which suggests the ominous sound of the church bell. This is the music of ghastly dreams, the visions that cloud one's vision after daybreak: a fitting soundtrack for the last moments of a condemned man's life.

Ravel's meticulous attention to detail led Stravinsky to call him the "Swiss Watchmaker." For three years, pianist Sarah Cahill displayed a similar determination, playing nothing but Ravel. Her dedication shows through in this recording, which captures all of the chilling beauty and impressionistic complexity of one of Ravel's darkest and most compelling works.

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