Ravel Ma mère l’Oye – suite; Debussy Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (revised version); Bizet Symphony in C
Andrew von Oeyen (piano); PKF-Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume
Warner Classics 9029562593 72:04 mins
Three French works, each with a youthful slant. Bizet wrote his Symphony in C when aged just 17; Debussy was only 27 when he composed the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra; and Ravel’s Mother Goose suite was written originally as a piano duet for Mimie and Jean Godebski, the children of close friends. While the Ravel has a gentle innocence, the Bizet and Debussy possess a frolicking freshness of spirit.
The PKF-Prague Philharmonia under Emmanuel Villaume convey an infectious sense of vibrant fun, particularly in the Bizet Symphony: the outer movements sprightly bounce along with winsome deftness of touch in a smiling performance of this unabashedly happy music. There is also much to enjoy in the Ravel, the woodwind timbres exquisitely portraying the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ movement, as well as real zest to the chinoiserie in the performance of ‘Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas’. There is also appropriate sparkle at the end of ‘Le jardin féerique’, making up for the lean-toned strings’ lack of luxuriance and a slight stiffness in the opening ‘Pavane’. The centrepiece in every sense is Debussy’s Fantaisie. A work that is still too often overlooked in the composer’s output, it would probably have fared better if explicitly named as a concerto, or an evocatively picturesque title. Pianist Andrew von Oeyen is a strong advocate, never losing sight of the musical architecture amidst the pre-echoes of La mer and shimmering slow movement. Villaume ensures the vivacious final movement, with its strong affinity with the composer’s contemporaneous Danse (Tarantelle styrienne), is truly rousing.