Grandeur and Informality Co-Exist in Tharaud’s Ravel

United StatesUnited States Weill, Ravel, and Gershwin: Alexandre Tharaud (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 10.4.2016. (BJ)

Weill: Symphony No. 2
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Gershwin: An American in Paris

This Philadelphia Orchestra program began and ended with concert works by composers more usually associated with show business, and one of them yielded richer rewards than the other. Brilliantly though the orchestra played it under Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s direction, Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony emerged as a pervasively loud, banal, and rather repetitive piece. The repetitions, moreover, were so often of notes, chords, or phrases heard four times over that you could almost unfailingly guess, when one of these was heard for the first time, that three more hearings would immediately follow.

I might have been tempted to assume in advance—oh, come on, let me be honest: I did assume in advance—that Gershwin’s An American in Paris would end the afternoon in similarly banal fashion, for it is a work I have not previously much enjoyed listening to. But, living up to the far-ranging talent the music director has regularly displayed in performing his equally far-ranging programs, he led an account of it that was so refined in texture, lively in rhythm, and sumptuous in orchestral color as to sound like much finer music than usual.

That is not to say that Gershwin’s piece, even in this freshly exhilarating reading, fully matched up to the genius of the Left-Hand Concerto, one of Ravel’s greatest works. Here the playing of the French soloist, Alexandre Tharaud, did indeed match the quality of the orchestra’s contribution, and their combined forces managed, while giving due emphasis to the concerto’s recurring contrast of majestic grandeur with zany informality, to show that both elements were fundamentally cut from the same rich-hued cloth. Tharaud’s pianism combined ravishing delicacy at the top of the keyboard with ample power in all registers: this was music-making as beguiling and as exciting as we have heard from any pianist in the course of the season.

Bernard Jacobson

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