At first glance it may seem an unusual mix, Maurice Ravel and Florent
Schmitt. Digging deeper, however, there’s more to this pairing than meets
the eye. Both composers are French, roughly contemporary and they
co-founded, together with Gabriel Fauré and Charles Koechlin, the Société
musicale indépendante in 1909. Also, Schmitt’s J’entends dans le
from the three movement triptych Ombres (Shadows)
been compared to Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit
, both works calling for
transcendental virtuosity. Whilst Ravel’s star continues to shine brightly,
Schmitt has faded into obscurity somewhat, being remembered for one work
alone - La Tragédie de Salomé
. Several years ago Larderet recorded
a CD of solo piano music by Schmitt, which includes Ombres
, Op. 64, which many regard as his most complex,
virtuosic work for solo piano, was composed between 1912 and 1917.
J’entends dans le lointain
is the first piece of the set and is
inspired by Lautréamont’s 1869 novel Les Chants de Maldoror
hear in the distance drawn-out cries of the most poignant grief.
phrase is quoted as an epigraph, heading the score. The work is pitched
against the backdrop of the First World War, evoking the indescribable
suffering and the horror of the mass graves. It seems poignant and apt that
I should be reviewing this release at the beginning of November. This
version for piano and orchestra was completed some time after the solo piano
version and was premiered by Jacques Février at the Concerts Colonne in
1930, and is here receiving its recording premiere.
Gloomy, dark and bleak, the music is richly scored, and the lush,
sumptuous orchestration hints at Debussy and even Szymanowski. Larderet
delivers a performance of stunning virtuosity, achieving myriad tonal
shadings in his painting of this desolate landscape. Daniel Kawka and his
players are sympathetic and engaging. This release is worth acquiring for
this work alone, and Larderet certainly proves himself a worthy ambassador
of Schmitt’s music. On the back of this, I would now like to investigate his
Naxos recording of the solo oeuvre.
With Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, written for the one-handed
pianist Paul Wittgenstein, we remain in sombre mode. Once again, the horrors
of war remain a backdrop, coupled with the composer’s obsession with death.
His American biographer Arbie Orenstein best sums up the concerto as
"Ravel's most dramatic work, combining expansive lyricism,
tormented jazz effects, a playful scherzo, and driving march rhythms, all of
which are scaffolded into one movement of modest dimensions."
This is a feverish and incandescent performance, where all concerned
acquit themselves admirably, judging the ebb and flow and traversing the
many moods with intelligence and musicality. Kawka points up Ravel’s
colourful orchestration, and Larderet delivers a viscerally exciting
performance. At 8:26, as things begin to hot up, the allegro becomes
rhythmically energized, with conductor and pianist spurring each other on. I
love the playful quality of Larderet’s playing against the chugging
accompaniment of the orchestra. The cadenza is a tour de force
this pianist’s hands, dispatched with flawless technique.
The more upbeat and fanciful character of the G major Concerto, being
programmed at the end, ushers in some light relief. Larderet brings
imagination and flair to the proceedings, with the witty and jazzy
undercurrents being brought out to effect. The slow movement is particularly
alluring with its eloquent lyricism. Whilst this version doesn’t replace my
favourite with Michelangeli from 1957 (Warner-EMI
), it constitutes a refreshing newcomer, injecting
some new life and insights into the work.
The ARS Produktion engineers have achieved demonstration sound quality,
with balance between soloist and orchestra ideal. Annotations in French,
English and German provide detailed background to the works.