French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard came to our Fraser Performance Studio with a handful of atmospheric 20th- and 21st-century miniatures, mainly from his homeland. His quiet manner is lit by an intense desire to share the sensations that come with total immersion in the evocative soundscapes crafted by Maurice Ravel, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter. With his English cautiously wrapped in heavy French nuance, Aimard spoke of the "charm of sounds" and "world of gestures" that captivate him as a musician.
In fact, he's reluctant to call himself a "pianist." Instead, he'd like to see himself as getting at music from any number of angles, including conducting, lecturing, teaching and playing chamber music.
Aimard was born in Lyon, France, and speaks with loving respect about Pierre Boulez, who hired him when creating the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. That love and respect translates directly into his performance of Boulez's "Notations," where he delights in the acoustic invention and psychological twists that each tiny piece demands.
He finds a kind of loving sadness in Messiaen's early prelude "La Colombe" (The Dove), a name the composer used for his mother. Aimard adores the music, as well as Elliott Carter's witty and chaotic "Matribute," another loving nod to a mother — in this case, conductor James Levine's.
With Ravel, Aimard considers the "Sad Birds" (Oiseaux Tristes). The moody intricacies translate an evening Ravel spent in the Fontainebleau forest into a sad bird’s recurring lament, reverberating through a blur of deep, lonesome color. And in "La Vallee des Cloches" (The Valley of the Bells), Aimard seems authentically thrilled by the idea of transforming Ravel's beloved Parisian bells into those of a distant Asian valley.
It was not long before WWI when Ravel wrote this music. Aimard calls it an extraordinary period, "a fantastic moment of mutation of aesthetics and languages." He obviously revels in the musical vocabulary that blossomed at that heady time, and which has evolved ever since.