Classical music review: On Sunday, June 5, the Seattle Symphony’s artist in residence brilliantly performed the G Major Piano Concerto of Ravel, a concerto he’s been playing since he was 11.
What a difference an artistic appointment can make.
An orchestra’s music director makes many choices during the course of a season, but certainly one of Ludovic Morlot’s best decisions for 2015-16 was the appointment of Jean-Yves Thibaudet as artist in residence at the Seattle Symphony.
The French pianist started the season by chairing the jury for the Symphony’s first piano competition last September and continued with an ear-opening succession of performances here — including one of the finest solo piano recitals ever heard in Benaroya Hall.
On Sunday, Thibaudet played the jazzy, mercurial G Major Piano Concerto of Ravel with his countryman Morlot and the orchestra, proving again the brilliance of his technique and his stylistic mastery of this repertoire.
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If he sounded utterly secure in every phrase, perhaps it’s because Thibaudet has been playing the concerto ever since he was 11 (he’s 54 now). The piano, technically a percussion instrument, has seldom sounded less percussive. It’s hard to imagine this music emerging with more loving finesse and more exquisite detail.
The soloist’s rapport with Morlot was evident throughout the performance, and the Symphony musicians — especially the principal winds — outdid themselves with beautiful solo responses to the soloist in the second Adagio assai movement.
The fiery energy of the final movement drew sustained applause at the conclusion, and Thibaudet responded with another, considerably more dulcet, work of Ravel as an encore: the lovely “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”).
A note to wise music lovers: Thibaudet will return for three performances of Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” on June 9-11.
Sunday afternoon’s curtain-raiser was a less familiar work by Ravel’s fellow Frenchman Gabriel Fauré, a generation older than Ravel and rather more modestly talented. Fauré’s suite “Masques et Bergamasques” has a few lovely moments, from an effervescent overture to a serene finale, but few would give it top marks for musical profundity. The performance was graceful, except for some moments of unfortunate intonation.
Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony might sound like an odd conclusion to a mostly French program, but there are significant parallels with the Ravel concerto: Both make liberal use of American influences. Jazz permeates the Ravel; American folk tunes fill the Dvorak.
Maybe the concerto performance helped to fire up the orchestra; maybe it was just the enjoyment of playing a masterpiece like the “New World,” one whose inexhaustible fund of melody and brilliant orchestration just never seem to pall. In any case, the orchestra rallied under Morlot’s baton for a performance that was decidedly not “business as usual.”
From the incisive brass to the eloquent wind solos (none more so than Stefan Farkas’ perfectly judged English horn in the famous “Largo”), the Symphony brought the “New World” to vibrant life.