Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-31) [18:42]
Piano Concerto in G major (1929-31) [22:35]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
J’entends dans le lointain - (version for piano and orchestra) [11:49]
World premiere recording
Vincent Larderet (piano)
OSE Symphonic Orchestra/Daniel Kawka
rec. 23-27 February 2015, Salle Messiaen, Grenoble, France
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38178 SACD [53:45]
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 lointain from the three movement triptych Ombres (Shadows) has 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, for Naxos (8.572194).
Schmitt’s 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 (“I hear in the distance drawn-out cries of the most poignant grief.”). The 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 in 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.
Support us financially by purchasing this disc from