2022-01-02 23:29:44 UTC
My real introduction five decades ago to Ravel's Left-Hand Concerto was via
a TV show and, two nights later, a live concert. The television show
featured the piano soloist and the conductor discussing the concerto with a
few excerpts (piano only). The pianist was a testy EIP (easily irritated
person) who didn't hesitate to contradict the conductor. The first set-to
came when the conductor opined that the concerto required an exceptional
virtuoso, to which the pianist snapped, "Not so! Any competent concertizing
soloist should be able to handle it." The second outburst came when the
conductor described both of Ravel's concertos as masterpieces. That roused
the soloist to argue forcefully that the G Major was a nice divertissement
with lovely transparent orchestration, but the D major was a masterpiece of
profound emotional depth.
And that's the way it was performed two nights later. The piano part ranged
from sinister, melancholy, panic, to exciting, and the orchestral outbursts
became a cry from the heart. Once heard that way, most of the recordings I
collected seemed insipid or wrong-headed. The Samson Francois/Cluytens
recording has remained my favorite although I've collected an embarrassing
number of recordings since. A few days ago, I pulled four CDs from the
shelf to remind myself of their merit or lack of it.
1. Denis Kozhukhin/Kazuki Yamada/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Pentatone
5186 620. Generally good recorded sound with powerful bass, but missing the
glitter of Ravel's orchestration. The pianist is better than Yamada, who
does little to shape or enliven the orchestral parts. The result is,
2. Yuja Wang/Lionel Bringuier/Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich/DG 4794954. I had
high expectations for this one. I cannot deny Wang's digital virtuosity,
but all I heard was a shower of brilliant notes with no concept that some
meaning was to be found in them. Bringuier brings little that's special in
his conducting and DG's engineering seemed pretty generic. I was
disappointed in this one, too.
3. Florian Uhlig/Pablo Gonzalez/Deutsche Radio Philhamonic. SWR 19027CD.
This was a big step up. Both the conductor and soloist seemed to have a
clear concept in mind that was exciting and sinister; missing only the dark
undertones of personal expression that I might have preferred. A very good
performance in clear, full range sound. A keeper.
4. Oleg Marshev/Vladimir Ziva/South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Danacord
672 (2-CD set). I looked at the notes before playing the CD, and my heart
sank when I read that the orchestra had 65 permanent musicians, and there
was no mention of additional players on this recording. I wasn't looking
forward to this hearing. Boy, was I wrong. The Baku-born Marshev and
Russian-born Ziva had a concept that seemed very close to my preferences.
They and the orchestra produced a performance of power, color, and emotion,
and the fine, close-up recording added to the impact. Of course, this
orchestra could not equal the massive sonority of world-class orchestras,
but their commitment, skill, and zeal carried the day. To my great
surprise, this CD was my favorite of this group. You never know.