SAINT-SAËNS; RAVEL Piano Concertos
The American pianist Andrew von Oeyen has been around for some time (b1979, orchestral debut aged 10). He has, I confess, escaped my attention thus far. The booklet essay he provides is as elegant, amiable and lucid as his touch on the keyboard. I very much liked his account of the Saint-Saëns G minor: such attention to detail yet without point-making, like the clearly arpeggiated octave Ds above the stave in the opening flourishes, and the accented staccatos in the left hand shortly after fig E in the Scherzo (2'01" et seq), by no means always observed. Despite a few over-projected wind interjections, Villaume and the Prague players do him proud. In fact this is in every way a fine account, missing only one thing: adrenalin. For that you must turn to Darré, Hough or Grosvenor.
The Ravel falls much into the same category. Everything is there, efficiently and accurately delivered. Among many fine passages, the harp’s haunting quasi cadenza in the first movement is most atmospherically captured, cor anglais and soloist listen attentively to one another in the last pages of the slow movement (though von Oeyen’s final six-bar trill is hardly piano or, indeed, sensitive), while the trombone is suitably dirty in the finale. Nevertheless, all this endeavour by no means outshines the likes of Argerich, Michelangeli or (my favourite) Jean Casadesus.
After a thoroughly French concerto and another infused with American elements comes an American piece for piano and orchestra infused with French elements (and, by happy coincidence, the premieres of Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody and Ravel’s G major Concerto took place within 15 days of each other in January 1932). Again, perfectly fine in von Oeyen’s hands but not fine enough to displace the more urgent and, ultimately, more idiomatic response of Oscar Levant with Morton Gould. Back to France for von Oeyen’s own transcription of the Méditation from Thaïs, ending in exemplary fashion this debut recording for Warner Classics.