French Music for Piano and Orchestra
A renamed RTE Symphony Orchestra, a match for its more recorded counterpart m Ulster, taped this programme last year in their new Dublin concert-hall (acoustically clean, bright and airy but warm, if this disc's sound is representative). The soloist, Francois-Joel Thiollier, who is Franco-American by birth, is new to me, but his impressive CV is borne out in the quality of his playing, individual, often impulsive but always idiomatic, under the sensitive, guiding hand of a conductor obviously well acquainted with the music. This disc of French works, all for piano and orchestra, and all from the late 1870s and 1880s, is one of the best from Naxos to have come my way.
A more high-profile production would probably have retaken those passages where piano and orchestra co-ordination is occasionally fractionally awry, such as in the last variation of the Franck, but then, it might also have seemed less spontaneous. There isn't quite the sophistication of tone and balance to be found in the recent (full-price) Thibaudet/Dutoit account of the d'Indy, but Thiollier's rubato is always distinctive and attractive, the style, particularly and crucially in the Faure, properly fluid. Here you notice how Almeida's accompaniment is discreet when it needs to be and assertive when it needs to be, but also reactive in, for example, the orchestra's echoing repetitions, repetitions that can embarrass as cliches if the collaboration is not working.
Both the piano and the orchestra's woodwind are discreetly prominent, but internal balances are generally excellent (the close-ish woodwind are only disturbing in the last chord of the first movement of the d'Indy, where the piccolo is obviously last in and first out). It may be obvious but it is important to point out that there are no budget-price competitors in this repertoire that reproduce with such beauty of tone.'