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Messiaen • Ravel • Schoenberg: Concertos etc

Francesco Piemontesi (piano); Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Jonathan Nott (Pentatone)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Messiaen • Ravel • Schoenberg
Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques; Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Schoenberg: Piano Concerto
Francesco Piemontesi (piano); Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Jonathan Nott
Pentatone PTC 5186 949 (CD/SACD)   57:11 mins

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You have to envy the citizens of Geneva, regularly able to hear music-making on this level from their resident orchestra and conductor. Add a pianist in Franceso Piemontesi’s class, and here are stellar interpretations of three very different concerto-type works, ordered into a journey from easier listening to (notionally at least) more difficult.

Ravel was so determined to avoid portentousness in his winsome G major Piano Concerto – the first work heard on the disc – that it can easily sound trite in performance. Any such risk vanishes in the presence of Piemontesi’s brand of musicianship, which is at once deft and searching; a special moment is the sequence of trills decorating the melody in the first movement’s cadenza, marvellously judged to sound as if the notes are somehow gliding, rather than stepping from one to the next. The Suisse Romande players’ contribution is in a similar class: at the orchestra’s delayed entry in the second movement, each of the sequence of woodwind solos is exquisitely delivered.

Oiseaux exotiques is then brought off in a performance of scintillating and sharp-focus panache, with Piemontesi and the orchestra’s woodwind, brass and percussion line-up brilliantly characterising the cascade of bird calls assembled into Messiaen’s super-concise design. And can Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto of 1942, with its insistent filtering of classical forms through a modernist idiom, ever have been more persuasively presented? Without any compromising sense of a soft-focus paraphrase, the music is nonetheless delivered with a sureness of touch and purpose that absorbs and, as often as not, beguiles the ear.

Malcolm Hayes

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