Leonard Slatkin in Lyon continues his Ravel survey for Naxos – this is the sixième issue (the already-released two operas are outside of this numeracy) – and happily couples the two Piano Concertos, different beasts though they are, and another concertante piece, one full of gypsy passions.
Proceedings begin with the jazzy, blues-tinged, bittersweet and exuberant G-major Piano Concerto, which introduces (to me) François Dumont. He’s a stylish and virtuoso pianist, as mercurial, deadpan and as sensitive as the music needs – from whip-crack opening to the circus-frolics conclusion via a song-without words slow movement. Dumont is characterfully supported by Slatkin and the ONL, although not every detail makes it through (woodwinds from seventeen seconds in lose out to piano glissandos, not that Dumont is too loud or too forward in balance, and the subsequent trumpet solo is rather distant). The recording (rather anonymously credited to France Musique) suggests the Auditorium de Lyon as a big venue – however, most of the time the ONL is tangible.
There is much to enjoy – a first movement that contrasts playful vigour and expressive languor, an Adagio that is tenderly expressive and private enough for us to be eavesdroppers until beguiling woodwinds converse further eloquence (but from 0:16-0:22 a rehearsal take seems to have been edited in; sudden noisy background). The Finale is a singular success, dashing but not raced through.Jennifer Gilbert (ONL concertmaster) does Tzigane proud; rich-toned seductive playing (encouraging the hall’s reverberation), intense without coarseness or any sacrificing of intonation; this is a rose-between-the-teeth account, and when the orchestra enters (which takes a while), harp as cimbalom, a paprika-spiced romp is guaranteed, bandanas and earrings sported proudly. Tim Handley’s engineering gives Gilbert a close focus (without disenfranchising the increasingly swirling orchestra), as if serenading us at the restaurant table, and certainly her playing can take the scrutiny.
Returning to France Musique for the (written for Wittgenstein) Left-Hand Concerto (1930), it’s a pity that the misty opening emerges from digital silence rather than venue ambience – one needs to sense that the conductor has begun his direction before any sound emerges. However that tiny caveat is soon forgotten with this impressive reading of one of Ravel’s greatest scores, music that covers a lot of emotional ground – and the range of the keyboard – without being able to escape darkness, turmoil or the macabre march that erupts roughly halfway through and to which Dumont responds with a searching of the cadenza, looking for the light, until crushed (Ravel knowingly prophetic?) by jackboots. If so he didn’t live long enough to find out.