Music For France

 

Maurice Ravel, Piano Concerto in G Major, 2nd Movement – Adagio Assai

Hélène Grimaud, piano

For the people of France on this solemn and reflective day.

Music For The Day

The second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, performed by Leonard Bernstein and accompanied by the Orchestre National de France:

 

I have never been a tremendous aficionado of Bernstein’s piano performances – a great (if variable) composer and conductor, he simply spread himself too thin to have made himself one of the greats. But this is a superb performance, very well conducted from the keyboard.

It is also interesting to see Bernstein (partly through necessity) adopt the pre-Liszt piano/orchestra configuration.

Music For The Day

“Le Tombeau de Couperin”, in the original arrangement for piano, performed by Angela Hewitt:

 

As always with Ravel, the clarity of the individual melodic lines and the ripe potential for orchestration is readily apparent. Though it may be that I am reverse-engineering a composition to justify my analysis, I do believe that there is something special in Ravel’s piano music that seems to contain the pure distilled essence of melody and musicality – that kernel of imagination that almost cries out for sketching out with the full tonal palate of the full orchestra.

But sometimes it is nice to enjoy the purity of the original, and Angela Hewitt does not disappoint in this CBC Music recording. There are some moments of real melting tenderness in this performance – indeed, the six movements of the suite were each individually dedicated to friends or relatives of Ravel who had died fighting in the First World War.

Music For The Day

“The Fairy Garden” from Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel (1910), performed here by the Scott Brothers duo in the original piano duet arrangement:

 

I had not previously encountered this duo, but the Scott Brothers’ official biography on their website states:

International Piano Magazine said of ‘Duets for Piano’ “I doubt whether Debussy’s Petite Suite or Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye have ever sounded more beguiling on disc.”

I am also new to this particular arrangement of “Ma Mère L’oye”, having heard it for the first time as an encore to yesterday’s BBC Prom concert, performed by acclaimed pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the conductor Philippe Jordan taking the other hot seat.

The piece has many of the hallmarks that characterise so much of Ravel’s writing for piano – beautiful melodies; clean, sparse and somewhat melancholy chords; and a wonderful sparkling sound that always conjures in my mind an image of crystal clear water in a bubbling brook.

 

And above is the orchestral version, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Charles Munch.

Yet another example of why Maurice Ravel remains the most gifted orchestrator ever to have lived.