Friday, May 15, 2009

Thibaudet and Ravel

It was interesting hearing Jean-Yves Thibaudet play the Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel this evening, only a week after hearing Gershwin's Concerto in F played in the same hall by Jeffrey Kahane (for that review, click here). When I first started listening to orchestral music in my late teens, I was a jazz fan becoming a classical fan, and these were obvious pieces to smooth the transition. Somehow I had assumed that the Ravel piece had been written first and that it had influenced Gershwin, who was younger and starting his own orchestral career after writing showtunes. However, in the years since I had learned that my assumption was wrong and that it was the other way around. Ravel had been visiting the US and heard Gershwin's piece, and decided to write his own concerto with many similarities, not the least of which is the bluesy treatment of melody.

Hearing them both live and in such close proximity in the same hall, I am becoming increasingly convinced the Gershwin's work is much better than I had previously thought. It is, for the most part, the more interesting of the two, with the exception of the second movement, which is a bit too simple. On the contrary, the second movement of the Ravel is the best movement, and in many ways the least jazzy.

It was also interesting tonight seeing one of the few large crowds at the hall, clearly having turned out for the soloist, who was quite good, but seeing a small turnout for Kahane, who was exceptional.

Originally Ravel had written the piece as a divertissement, retitling it as a concerto later. The program tonight opened with another light piece, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which, for a light piece, is one of the all-time greats. As Steve Ledbetter's concert notes point out, there is hardly any development in the piece, yet it still stands a almost perfectly constructed. The orchestra performed it almost perfectly, with a correctly small Mozart-sized orchestra.

The program finished with one of Beethoven's weakest symphonies, #2, although quite nicely performed under guest conductor James Gaffigan.
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