Ravel & Fauré Works for Piano and Orchestra
The Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is often fine in Ravel, but this sumptuously recorded coupling of the two piano concertos has its idiosyncrasies. In the Left-Hand Concerto, which is played first, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos sets the scene with an orchestral prelude that is slower than usual, and then after his initial a piacere cadenza Lortie too takes his time noticeably with the sarabande-like first theme played by the piano alone, slower than the mark of crotchet = 44 and with plentiful rubato too—and I have never previously heard and cannot justify the pause made (5'00'') before the trills (here too lengthy) and upward glissando that end this passage. The consequence of this approach is that the Piu lento second subject offers no tempo contrast; and after it the Andante (7'44''), with crotchet now marked at 60, just isn't that but is about crotchet = 44 and so not ''a walking pace''. Furthermore, the E major Allegro section is 126 instead of 138. So this is a slowish account of the Concerto although tonally it has its own kind of excitement and some piano passages (like the one starting at 10'56'') come out clearer than usual. In the coda the soloist and orchestra are not well together.
To keep an open mind and search for spirit rather than letter, I deliberately did not use a score in a first hearing of the G major Concerto, but here too Lortie and his conductor too often allow momentum, and ultimately shape, to slacken and not only in fast music. Both Roge (Decca) and Collard (EMI) are significantly faster in each of the three movements here and in the Left-Hand Concerto too, yet neither hurries Ravel's music; either of these fine and well-recorded performances strikes me as closer to the composer's thought (though it must be said that there is an editing fault in the last bars of the Collard Left-Hand Concerto). But Lortie gives a fine tonal shading to the first-movement cadenza of this G major work and its beautiful Adagio too, while in the finale he comes closer to a naturally convincing interpretation, with fine articulation showing to advantage. After the rhetoric and verve of the Ravel works, the quietly reflective Faure Ballade (which both Liszt and Debussy thought too pale to be interesting, as Bryce Morrison reminds us in his useful note) suits him pretty well in its gentle tapestry of pastel colours. Collard (EMI) is a little more energetic where the music allows and so obtains more variety of mood; his persuasive performance comes on a well-filled and well-planned CD devoted entirely to orchestral pieces by this composer.'