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CD Review

Maurice Ravel

Piano Concertos

  • Piano Concerto in G Major
  • Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand
  • Gaspard de la nuit
Samson François, piano
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/André Cluytens
EMI Classics 66957 ADD 60:54
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The very first CD I ever bought contained the piano concertos with Pascal Roge and Charles Dutoit on London 410 230. I had gotten my first player and wondered what recording to try out first. The owner of what was "Liberty Music" in Ann Arbor recommended that disc immediately and I got it. As beautiful as it sounded, the performance of the first concerto, with its jazz influences, did not move me as did the Michelangeli recording on LP. After awhile I filed the London disc and got the EMI/Michelangeli CD as soon as it was available.

I'd heard about this Francios recording, but for some reason never got it on LP. Maybe it wasn't generally available here. Anyway, what I have been missing!! Talk about "idiomatic"!! The pianist, orchestra and conductor are of one mind. This even puts the Michelangeli in the shade. Now, that may have something to do with the differences in recording. The Michelangeli sounds too dry and there is a slight glare on the orchestra. That might be transformed by the new "ART" process used here and in the others in EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series. All I know is that the sound on this disc is phenomenal. The whole experience tickles the back of my brain. Francios plays the music as though he's making love to it. You literally have to hear it to believe it. It is almost a surreal experience. Those are just my initial notes on hearing the opening of the first concerto. It gets better.

The concerto for the left hand has really never done much for me. At least until now. François transforms this music for my ears. He finds music in the notes that Roge misses completely. To say it is "just plain magical" may sound like a cop-out, but I'm not sure how otherwise to say it. For the first time I appreciate this southpaw piece.

By the way, Steinberg just had his book, The Concerto, released. It is as valuable a tool for the non-reader of music as was his book on the symphony. The chapter on the Ravel concertos was insightful and interesting.

Add to all this the finest "Gaspard" I have ever heard. This is a desert-island disc.

After writing the above, I read the notes accompanying the CD. Not a word about the music, but some fascinating stuff about the pianist. One comment described his playing as "improvised on the spot…" That may be redundant, but it describes the playing I hear here. François' comments about playing Brahms are a hoot!

Copyright © 1999, Robert Stumpf II