Wednesday, 17 February 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2016)

RAVEL Piano Concertos
FAURÉ Ballade
Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich 
Lionel Bringuier, Conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4954 / ****1/2

Both of Maurice Ravel's piano concertos were composed around the same period, between 1929 and 1931. While these are vastly contrasted works, both are united by one common thread: the influence of new world jazz, particularly the use of syncopated rhythms and the blues idiom. 

The G major concerto in three movements is characterised by unusual orchestration and the unlikely juxtaposition of Basque music and Mozartean simplicity. The D major concerto in one movement is the world's best known work for the left hand alone. Its central jazzy march episode has a similar insistent quality that can be found in Ravel’s infamous Bolero, and it culminates with a massive cadenza before the end.

Chinese phenomenon Yuja Wang performs with a lightness and mercurial quality that serves the music well, especially in the scintillating runs and volatile climaxes. The woodwind solos by members of the Swiss orchestra in both concertos are excellent which help put these performances in the top drawer of CD recordings. 

As a filler, Wang includes the solo piano version of the Ballade by Ravel's teacher Gabriel Fauré, a highly lyrical work that belongs to an earlier era, that of the more innocent Belle Epoque. Wang cuts a glamourous figure, but what has baring her midriff for the album cover have to do with this music?

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