Ravel: Piano Concerto, Concerto for the left hand, Schmitt - Larderet, Kawka
Ars Produktion ARS 38 178
Classical - Orchestral
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Piano Concerto for the left hand
Schmitt: J'entends dans le lointain...
Vincent Larderet, piano
OSE Symphonic Orchestra
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 23, 2016
OSE Symphonic Orchestra? It’s a Lyons based, French orchestra. People may never have heard of it. It is neither part of the AFO ‘Association Française des Orchestres’ nor listed (2011) among the best orchestras in France. What does OSE stand for? Nowhere does it say so in so many words, but “j‘ose” in French means: “I dare”, no doubt symbolizing its daring approach to music. Are they any good? You bet! How I know? By listening to them.
Because the liner notes are rather modest about it, I had to delve a bit deeper. It turned out that this orchestra, after initial try outs, established itself in 2013 with the help of a kind of crowd funding project, enabling it to get started. The driving force is its founder and inspirational Chef, Daniel Kawka. For all I know, they are entirely privately funded and are clearly passionate about what they are doing. The aim of OSE is ‘to surprise audiences with new music and new forms of repertoire’, and also to offer young talent a stepping stone into realizing their ambitions. Every three years one third of the complement will be renewed. This is the background against which I’d like to judge this recording.
Ravel’s two concerti for piano and orchestra ‘embrace’ the world première recording of Florent Schmitt’s “j’entends dans la lointain ….” (I hear in the distance) in its version for piano and orchestra. The soloist in all three, Vincent Larderet, is the almost ideal pianist: French, young, daring, with a repertoire spanning from Scarlatti to Boulez, ardently favouring lesser known composers like… Schmitt.
Schmitt's is a macabre piece, starting with an outburst before focusing on things happening in the distance. The composition dates from 1917, i.e. towards the end of ‘the great war’, as the French call World War I. It’s about screams in the distance, anguish and mass graves. The original piano score is probably one of the most difficult in French music literature. The version for piano and orchestra was premiered in 1930 and appears now for the first time on disk. The performance makes one shiver and its merit consists in bringing Schmitt, of which only few of his compositions have so far been recorded, so convincingly to the knowledge of a wider audience. On the basis of this, one might say that Schmitt is not an ‘easy’ composer. His ‘Symphony Concertante’ for piano and orchestra (premiered in 1932 in the USA) soon got the nick name ‘Symphony Déconcertante’. But he has a different side as well: Piano Quintet, Op. 51; le Petit Elfe Ferme l'Oeil (the little fairy closes an eye) for cello and orchestra, recordings of both exist in RBCD.
Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand, with which the disk opens, was composed for an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War. The opening of this one movement composition corresponds with a somber mood. It starts with a long introduction, impressively played by the orchestra, until Vincent Larderet takes over building up tension to renewed orchestral lament; bringing it to rest in a lyrical central piece. But not for long: Soloist and orchestra ably stage, in close and well-judged and well-managed (Daniel Kawka) collaboration, scary wartime cries and eerie emptiness. A long cadenza, allowing Larderet to present his pianistic credentials, brings it to an abrupt end.
Ravel’s concerto in G major, the final work on this disk, is no doubt the more popular one, with its beautiful Adagio assai. I was able to compare with Schlimé/Pentatone and Rogé/OEHMS, both on SACD, as well as the ever so popular Thibaudet/Decca on RBCD. The long and the short of it is that Pascal Rogé, although not bad and adequately supported by Bertrand de Billy, falls short of Larderet cs. whereas Francesco Schlimé never really gets out on the road in the first two movements. I’m not sure if it is the soloist or the Conductor (Pletnev) who constantly pulls the brakes. Fact is that I almost fell asleep during the slow, very slow, say sluggish second movement. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, however, is a different cup of tea. Together with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony they deliver a first rate, highly professional performance.
So, here we are, on the one hand the ‘professionals’ and on the other the ‘passionates’. In terms of playing the OSE sound more committed, as does Larderet. However, in the second movement Thibaudet keeps the flow better than Larderet.
In objective terms the Decca release (giving the concerto for the left hand as well) may be the better one, but considering that we have here a ‘new’ orchestra, with rotating membership, a young up-and-coming pianist, clearly closely collaborating with an inspirational Chef, I have no hesitation to recommend this disk for all those who feel that they deserve to be rewarded and encouraged in their laudable endeavours. The more so because the sound is excellent, and of course much better and infinitely more detailed than the 1995 Decca recording, be it that the surround is somewhat overwhelming (realizing, of course, that some like it better than others).
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