Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F / Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
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This is one class act. Helene Grimaud generally prefers the heavy-duty German repertoire and has fought hard not to be typecast as a dainty "French" female pianist. Nevertheless she has expressed a certain affection for selected French and non-Germanic works, which is a good thing for us because this is the best performance of the Gershwin concerto we are ever likely to hear. It has style, warmth, and bravura to spare. In fact, everyone concerned treats it like it's the greatest piece of music in the world, and the same positives apply to the Ravel. --David Hurwitz
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Rather than push the jazz elements this performance by Helene Grimaud and David Zinman takes a less hurried approach, particularly in the first movement. The slower tempos allow more focus on the classical structure; there is no over-emphasis just the musical colors that Gershwin wrote. The slow movement is laid-back with the blues element of the music beautifully played. Here Ms. Grimaud matches the mood of the orchestra with very smooth playing, lingering over the phrases. The Finale is fast and furious with a marvelous rolling of the gong at the end.
The Ravel Concerto is a nice pairing with the Gershwin, especially since they met and admired each other's music. Like the Gershwin, Ravel's Piano Concerto is performed at an easy tempo bringing out the colors of the score. Ms. Grimaud is fantastic throughout and delivers an excellent performance and David Zinman has great sensitivity for the score. The catalogue, however, has many excellent performances and this one does not, for me, displace the highly regarded recording of Zimmerman and Boulez. If you already have a recording of the Ravel G major concerto the reason for buying this disc is the Gershwin.
There is a good balance between soloist and performer and the clarity of the recording allows one to hear many details that were missed before. My only complaint is that at 54:47 there was room for more music; the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand would seem an obvious choice or what about Gershwin's Second Rhapsody? This is a minor problem that is made up for by two superb performances.
Gershwin's two most famous works, "Rhapsody in Blue" which was commissioned by famed jazz big band leader Paul Whiteman and "An American in Paris", recalling his visit to the "City of Lights" were single movements with multiple themes and rhythms within each work. But "Piano Concerto in F" (major) is written in a more formal classical music format with 3 movements: the soaring, multi-tempo Allegro movement with its beautiful melancholy main theme gives Grimaud and orchestra a great large-scale sonic canvas; the languid, bluesy Adagio-Andante con motto movement with piano figurations that are heavily quoted in jazz solos of today (or was Gershwin the one being influenced?); and the urgent bombastic Allegro agitato uniting previous themes, all three movements getting a marvelous musical ride by Grimaud and company. It is a soaring, beautiful performance from Grimaud supported and complemented by Zinman and the BSO.
Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G" was dedicated to and premiered by famed pianist Marguerite Long and its 3 movements are annotated as Allegramente, a whimsical, mostly uptempo, at times explosive movement seemingly influenced by Ravel's introduction to jazz in New York and the blues in New Orleans during his USA tour; the 9 minute Adagio assai, a gentle dissonant waltz, full of swirling pensive reveries and raindrop figurations, and is my favorite movement; and the uptempo Pesto movement has more orchestral whimsy and restless repetitive figures for the display of Grimaud's virtuosic pianism, seeming to end prematurely. Ravel almost 'disconnects' the pianist's left and right hands at times, mesmerizingly flying in different directions.
Today, Hélène Grimaud is viewed as a supremely potent pianistic iconoclast with her own vision of how to approach a piece, and 17 years prior, during this chapter of "The Erato Story" she was no less adventurous, reveling in the music of both Gershwin and Ravel with the BSO. The sound for both piano and orchestra has a somewhat distant aspect, inviting this listener to turn it up, pulling one into the sonic ambience of the performance, and if that is what Erato intended, it works. Kudos to Mlle Grimaud, Mr Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorites, this one gets My Highest Recommendation. Five ENJOYABLE Stars. (6 DDD tracks; Time-54:47)