RAVEL Piano Concertos FAURÉ Ballade
On paper, this first foray into French territory by one of today’s star pianists looks promising. The Tonhalle Orchestra was the first European orchestra with whom Yuja Wang appeared, aged 15; she performed regularly with them during the 2014-15 season; added to which she and Bringuier are very much on the same wavelength musically. ‘There was,’ she says, ‘little to discuss during rehearsals.’
A good project on paper does not always translate to a successful recording. In this case, however, it does – with knobs on. Five years ago, when I wrote a Collection piece for these pages on Ravel’s G major Concerto, I put Jean Casadesus at the top, closely followed by Anne Queffélec, Michelangeli and Argerich. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have awarded the palme d’or to this recording. The outer movements are so deliciously light, like the most perfect soufflé, executed with disarming insouciance by pianist and orchestra alike, exemplified by the cheeky clarinet and trombone licks at the start of the third movement. Yet the central section of the first movement with the important harp solo is uncommonly eerie, as is that dissonant passage in the slow movement (4'28", fig 4). You could not wish for a more atmospheric account of this concerto – nor a more thrilling one.
The same applies to the Left Hand Concerto with an opening that is truly sinister (in both senses) but where Yuja Wang keeps the texture feather-light in the G major, here she employs the full ringing resonance of her instrument. Technically, of course, she is fairly awesome in a recording of crystalline clarity and depth. Between the two concertos comes a crisp, unsentimental account of the original solo version of Fauré’s Ballade.
It’s bad luck on Vincent Larderet that a big-name pianist should release her Ravel concertos in the same month. There is a lot to admire about the Ars Produktion versions, not least the sound engineering, but ultimately they lack the personality and sheer panache of DG’s. The main selling point is the premiere recording of the piano-and-orchestra version of J’entends dans le lointain… (1929) by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958). The fiercely demanding original piano solo (1917), written on three staves, is the first part of a triptych entitled Ombres. It is, to concur with the booklet, a ‘gloomy score [which] brings to mind the horrors of mass graves, the annihilation and great agony of these years’. After it, Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto comes as light relief.