Ravel, Franck, Debussy

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy,Franck,Ravel
LABELS: Danacord
WORKS: Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Concerto for Left Hand; Franck: Symphonic Variations; Debussy: Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra
PERFORMER: Oleg Marshev (piano); South Jutland SO/Vladimir Ziva
CATALOGUE NO: DACOCD 672

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Saint-Saëns aside, French composers of the last 150 years have not in general found the piano concerto a congenial medium. Debussy for one was unhappy with the ‘ridiculous battle between piano and orchestra’ of which, for him, too many traces remained in his early Fantaisie.

Sadly, he never got round to reworking it, but on this disc it’s interesting to hear the links in harmony and general atmosphere with Franck’s Symphonic Variations, where the latter composer is obviously so much more at home.

I’m not sure any pianist or conductor in the Fantaisie can entirely disguise the lumpish joins between sections. However, Oleg Marshev performs both works stylishly and without intrusive rubato, and it’s good to hear a marked distinction in tempo between the two opening ideas in the Franck, which the composer integrates as the work proceeds.

At the very end, Marshev is guilty of a little over-excitement, and while he is well in control in the Ravel concertos (the exceptions to the general rule mentioned above) a parallel accelerando towards the end of the G major finale is likewise tactfully restrained by the conductor.

I approve of Marshev’s readings in the cadenza of the D major, not just the lower octave at the start, but also the left-hand A naturals at fig. 51 instead of the horrid printed F sharps, where a bass clef has gone missing.

Altogether less happy is the orchestral balance here, where the crucial clarinet entries at the return of the orchestra are inaudible; and a similar fate befalls the horn tuckets (before fig. 17) in the G major finale.

Also the trumpet on its tune at the start of the first movement is, to my ears, slightly flat, though admirably articulated. But for all these reservations, overall this programme is instructive in demonstrating what French composers could make of the medium. Roger Nichols

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