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Ravel, Gershwin: Piano Concertos; Stravinsky: Capriccio / Parker

Ravel / Parker / Lso / Francis
Release Date: 08/31/2010 
Label:  Atma Classique   Catalog #: 2656   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Maurice RavelGeorge GershwinIgor Stravinsky
Performer:  Ian Parker
Conductor:  Michael Francis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



RAVEL Piano Concerto in G. STRAVINSKY Capriccio. GERSHWIN Piano Concerto in F Ian Parker (pn); Michael Francis, cond; London SO ATMA 2656 (73:20)


It’s always difficult to gauge the initial CD of a pianist in concertos, particularly so when the pianist is consciously attempting to present a unified view of the music along with the conductor and not just stand out as Read more star-soloist-with-accompaniment. In the liner notes for this disc, Ravel is quoted as remarking, “It has been said of certain classics that their concertos were written not ‘for’ but ‘against’ the piano. I heartily agree,” and it seems to me when listening to this program that it was clearly Parker’s intent to make his instrument sound like a member of the orchestra taking a solo, and not a flashy virtuoso leading the charge.


Which is not to say that Parker lacks technique or style; far from it. The younger cousin of pianists Jon Kimura Parker and Jamie Parker of the Griffin Trio, Ian makes even the most difficult passages sound easy, colors his tones like a master, and has a good grasp of the style of each of these composers, but simply does not dominate at any given point in the three works.


Part of this may very well be due to the leadership and musical intent of conductor Michael Francis. Originally a bassist with the LSO who stepped onto the podium at the last minute to replace an ailing Valery Gergiev in 2007, he made a tremendous impression on audiences and critics and has since become a full-time conductor. Shades of Toscanini! Yet where Toscanini built his style around a continuous forward propulsion of the music, Francis eases off occasionally on the rhythmic push and delights in a subtler purpose when building to a climax. His sound and style put me immediately in mind of the late Rudolf Kempe, which is a compliment of the highest order. I will certainly seek his name out in future releases, regardless of repertoire.


The unanimity of purpose between soloist and conductor is immediately apparent in the first movement of the Ravel, which grabs one’s attention and never lets it go. No detail is too small or insignificant for Parker and Francis to attend to, and the result is a performance of greater unity than I’ve ever heard before. In the lyrical second movement—a Mozartian-styled melody that caused Ravel untold suffering to compose and sustain—Parker is truly in his element, sculpting sensitive lines with color and feeling. The final Presto brings out the virtuoso in Parker but, again, he is never dominant, which gives this movement a quite different feel from the performances of Argerich, Moravec, Michelangeli, or Thibaudet.


Stravinsky’s Capriccio is presented more lightly, and less strongly rhythmic, than I am used to hearing it, but in the context of this recital the interpretation works well. Both pianist and conductor sound buoyant and playful, creating shadows and light throughout its three short movements. I find this a good contrast to the recordings by Malagoff (with Ansermet), Mark Wait, and Stravinsky himself (the early 1930s recording, also with Ansermet).


Yet, in some ways, the crowning glory of this disc is the Gershwin concerto, played here in what sounds to me like the original orchestration, meaning fewer strings and more pungent contributions from the brass and winds. Without sacrificing any of the work’s energy in the first and third movements, Francis is able to create more suspense than usual by introducing small rallentandos and luftpausen into this quintessentially American work. In this context, it makes an interesting contrast with the remarkable live performance that pianist Oscar Levant gave with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony in 1945, a performance that Levant said was not entirely Gershwin’s intent but still the most thrilling of his career. The second movement is taken quite a bit slower than I am accustomed to hearing it, yet again Parker and Francis make it work by their subtle building of tension and release. I am a bit upset that the trumpet soloist is not identified, as his playing comes very close in warmth and lyricism to that of the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke in his 1928 recording of the concerto with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Also quite remarkably, I find that Parker’s playing in this concerto is similar in feeling and concept to that of Roy Bargy, Whiteman’s 1928 soloist.


The sound quality and balance are perfect, airy but not swamping the instruments in a sea of reverb or other aural goo. No matter how many other recordings you have of these works, if you enjoy these pieces you simply must add this disc to your collection.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Ian Parker (Piano)
Conductor:  Michael Francis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1931; France 
2.
Concerto for Piano in F major by George Gershwin
Performer:  Ian Parker (Piano)
Conductor:  Michael Francis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; USA 
3.
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Ian Parker (Piano)
Conductor:  Michael Francis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928-1929; France 

Sound Samples

Piano Concerto in G major: I. Allegramente
Piano Concerto in G major: II. Adagio assai
Piano Concerto in G major: III. Presto
Capriccio: I. Allegro
Capriccio: II. Andante rapsodico
Capriccio: III. Allegro capriccioso ma sempre giusto
Piano Concerto in F major: I. Allegro moderato - Cantabile - Poco meno scherzando
Piano Concerto in F major: II. Andante con moto
Piano Concerto in F major: III. Allegro con brio

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