Ravel: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Stravinsky: Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F. Ian Parker, piano; Michael Francis, London Symphony Orchestra. ATMA Classique ACD2 2656.

I don't envy any pianist recording Ravel's Piano Concerto these days, having to compete against an acknowledged classic in Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's magical, 1957 performance, available on an EMI "Great Recordings of the Century" remaster. Nevertheless, young Canadian pianist Ian Parker tries his hand at it (both, actually, and his fingers, too), coming out not the worse for wear and probably the better for the experience.

French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) wrote his Piano Concerto in G major in 1931, the clear result of George Gershwin having swayed his decision to inject some American jazz into his music. Parker makes this connection early on, showing us the direct relationships among the three works on the disc, providing first the results the Gershwin influence and then the influence itself. But, as expected, Ravel adds his own suggestions of dreamy, Romantic expressionism to the mix. Parker gives us a generally light, airy interpretation of the Ravel concerto, the Adagio especially affecting in its gentle grace, poignancy, and composure. The finale is dazzling, of course, with the pianist and orchestra in virtuosic form.

The Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1929) by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) is both similar to and different from Ravel's piano concerto. Although both of the works are bright and cheerful, Stravinsky's is altogether darker in places and more exhilarating overall. Stravinsky being Stravinsky, the slow Andante Rapsodico is more than a bit stranger than anything Ravel ever wrote, the movement looking backward and forward at the same time. The closing segment finds Parker again at his best in an almost nonstop drive of rhythmic enchantment. And it is here that we most distinctly notice the impact of Stravinsky's hero, Tchaikovsky, in the music, as well as Stravinsky's own ballets.

The album concludes with one of the works that most greatly must have steered both Ravel and Stravinsky toward the jazz idiom, the Piano Concerto in F by George Gershwin (1898-1937), which Gershwin premiered in 1925. Interestingly, it is only here that Parker and company tend to wander a tad. The music never seems to come alive in the jazzy, bluesy manner of, say, Wild, Previn, or Siegel. It remains pleasant, mind you, and expertly played and presented; it just never appears entirely attuned to the vernacular of jazz, except in the second-movement Adagio, where it reflects the mood of an early Porgy and Bess. The ending is appropriately energetic if still not quite completely persuasive.

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 2009, the sound is fairly warm yet natural, with plenty of bass impact and a delicate but clean piano response. While the orchestral accompaniment could have been a touch more open and airy, the midrange more transparent, and the bass better damped, these are relatively minor qualms in an otherwise agreeable acoustic.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa