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Schoenberg, Ravel: Piano Concertos - Piemontesi, Nott

Schoenberg, Ravel: Piano Concertos - Piemontesi, Nott

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186949

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Schoenberg: Piano Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto
Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Jonathan Nott (conductor)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 30, 2022

Pentatone has been criticized in some circles for no longer being at the sharp end of quality recording. That may be so, and possibly for reasons of commercial survival, but if a new recording does hit the moon we must welcome and commend it. It is no secret that High-Resolution Super Audio, notably but not exclusively in physical format is under pressure. We, at HRAudio should, therefore, take a special interest in encouraging labels to continue to cater to the ‘niche’ we are.

After having listened several times, I have no hesitation in welcoming and commending this latest release, both in terms of musical and sound quality. We have here a brilliant example of what on the one hand a British conductor, a French-Swiss orchestra (Suisse Romande), and an Italian-Swiss pianist (Svizzera Italiana) “of exceptional refinement of expression”, can do, and what, on the other, Erdo Groot can produce editing the results of the recording sessions.

Considering this release in more detail: Despite the common denominator of “all three have American connections”, the combination of works is unusual. The liner notes do, in fact, recognize that they are “stylistically very different”. Sufficient reason, therefore, to take all three at face value.

Beginning with Ravel’s G Major Concerto, there is admittedly no shortage of available recordings. Around two dozen on SACD alone. Some very good, though, for various reasons, certainly not all. Past recommendations cover Ravel: Piano Concerto, Concerto for the left hand, Schmitt - Larderet, Kawka and Ravel: Piano Concerto, Debussy, Massenet - Bavouzet, Tortelier. I don’t want to dwell for too long on this, inviting all those interested to sample available snippets to decide whether or not this rendition favourably replaces any cherished version you may already own. Suffice it to say that I rate Francesco Piemontesi’s reading to be in the top echelon and that both l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and its Musical and Artistic Director, Jonathan Nott, provide an enviably supportive framework for Piemontesi to excel.

Messiaen’s style is as incomparable as any of his works. Always experimenting it is hard to classify this unique composer. His ‘Oiseaux exotiques’ (exotic birds) become a desirable box of birds in Piemontesi’s lofty reading. And one must also compliment the participating members of the orchestra. Having said that I can’t help feeling that these 15 minutes have been chosen as a kind of ‘filler’. If so, it is one of the better we usually get. Not only because it is well played, though perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but also because it is hard to come by on record and not at all in Super Audio.

However, the real boon, deserving all our attention, is this new recording of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, thus far unavailable in high resolution of any kind. One may wonder why that is so. Though still regarded as ‘contemporary’, we may, after some eighty years and so many follow-on contemporary stuff, question if that’s still correct. My personal view: Not quite. Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique (“a systemized form of atonality which gives equal importance to each of the twelve chromatic tones”) is unique and therefore as ‘classic’ as it remains ‘modern’.

I do not share someone’s view that “The piece is not meant to sound pretty but yet more or less meant to sound creepy”. When I was young Arnold Schoenberg’s style made me feel ‘uneasy’, but now, at a more mature age, it adds another dimension to my appreciation, like a missing element falling into place. On one condition, though, that the interpreters are at a level to give full expression to Schoenberg’s conceptual spirit and that soloist, conductor and orchestra take an equal share in this effort.

It may be clear that I was thrilled with the result. What some may feel as ‘haunting’ in the first part, becomes, in the hands of Francesco Piemontesi and not least in that of Jonathan Nott, almost idyllic poetry (“Life was so easy”), contrasted in the second part by what may perhaps best be described like ominous shadows of European war-sufferings (“Suddenly hatred broke out”). The musical Trias of soloist, conductor, and orchestra, show themselves wonderfully flexible, shifting to the third part with ease and developing an initial fair bit of tenderness into a multi-coloured patchwork (“A grave situation was created"), where Knott lets the orchestra share in the overall concertante fabric. In the fourth and final part (“But life goes on”), the threesome embark on a kind of delicate mockery and subsequent stubbornness ending in a magistral statement of triumph.

This rendition of a visionary composer’s concerto is indisputably worth listening to, over and over again. Indeed, Piemontesi, Knott, and the Orchestra de la Swisse Romande, have reinstated the masterpiece this concerto by all means is. And what is more, Erdo Groot has done a great job.

Blangy-le- Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2022 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by Mark Werlin - August 25, 2022 (1 of 2)

Excellent review, Adrian. I think that Pentatone is attempting to broaden the recorded repertoire of less frequently performed 20th century classical works with offerings by contemporary composers.

Pina Napolitano, who regularly performs the piano works of Arnold Schönberg, contributed to The Guardian this article about her responses to his music.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/21/music-arnold-schoenberg-do-not-approach-with-caution-pina-napolitano

She recorded the Schönberg Piano Concerto Op. 42 in 2016 for the Odradek label. The album, entitled "Elegy", is available in 24/96 from Presto in the UK and ProStudioMasters in North America.

Comment by hiredfox - September 13, 2022 (2 of 2)

I am not at all sure why I bought this disc having wrestled with Schoenberg all my listening life without the slightest glimmer of understanding of what on earth he was talking about. What's more there is a shelf full of the Ravel G Concerto in our listening room by the many superb artists that have graced the keyboard over the past 80 or 90 years.

Nevertheless, this disc passed through the filter of our wish list and into our collection. The lasting allure of the Pentatone label that promises exemplary recording quality and near concert hall acoustic realism was clearly a factor.

Adrian's superb review sums up this recording very well indeed and also reveals his own struggle with Schoenberg's 12 tone contemporary extravagances. Whilst it is always nice to listen to a new interpretation of Ravel's thoughtful and moving concerto and Piemontesi's performance is very good indeed, the inclusion of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto brought me no closer to a more empathetic relationship with his atonality and serialism than before.

On that basis - unless you are a Schoenberg disciple of course - and despite the superb recording quality this disc is not recommendable.