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Ravel, Strauss / Jurowski, Grimaud, Chamber Orchestra of Europe [Blu-ray]

Ravel / Strauss / Grimaud / Coe / Jurowski
Release Date: 11/16/2010 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 3078734  
Composer:  Richard StraussMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Hélène Grimaud
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Number of Discs: 1 
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Blu-ray Video:  $39.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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BOOKLET: English, German, French
RUN TIME: 81 mins


STRAUSS Metamorphosen. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite. Read more class="COMPOSER12">RAVEL Piano Concerto in G 1 Vladimir Jurowski, cond; CO of Europe; 1 Hélène Grimaud (pn) EUROARTS 3078734 (Blu-ray: 81:00) Live: Paris 1/24/2009

On paper, this program—which opens with Metamorphosen , continues with the concerto and, presumably after the intermission, finishes up with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme —seems oddly structured. Isn’t the move from Strauss at his deepest and most somber to Ravel at his most sparkly too great a jolt? In practice, though, the concerto makes an unexpectedly effective transition between the aged Strauss’s elegy and the younger and more optimistic Strauss’s Molièrian jeu d’espirt. For Hélène Grimaud, who has turned into one of our most provocative 40-something pianists, gives us a troubled and troubling reading that defuses the concerto’s wit and instead plays up its connections to the left-hand sibling so often treated as its opposite.

Thus, the fairly slow account of the first movement may be superficially “romantic.” But even with the flexible tempos, the music never turns slushy or sentimental; the colors are dark, the mood exploratory and questioning. The toccata passages, so often whimsical, here barely disguise an underlying sense of threat. The second movement is, if anything, further outside the mainstream: Hard where so many performances are luxurious, pained and intense where so many aim for calm, this is a reading that, without exaggerating, brings out the music’s underlying conflicts. The famous English horn solo doesn’t float over the piano’s musings so much as suggest an entirely different world, with a consequent sense of eerie dislocation. The finale is marked by relentlessness rather than joie de vivre ; rarely has this music sounded less like easy listening. Hardly a first choice for someone seeking conventional wisdom about this piece, but strongly recommended for the adventurous.

The orchestral playing on the Ravel is a bit thick—balances are not always ideal (even the trombone at the beginning of the finale is too recessed) and ensemble is not always precise. Odd, given how artfully Vladimir Jurowski judges the even more difficult balances of Metamorphosen , which gets a glowing performance, on the quickish side, with a superb sense of pacing that offers tremendous sweep—if not quite the pain offered by such conductors as Klemperer. The airy account of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is almost as impressive. Yes, there’s a touch of sluggishness toward the beginning of the dinner scene, but other than that, it’s a witty performance notable for the clarity of its textures, the imagination of its tempo bending (try, in particular, the prelude to act II), the definition of its colors (especially on the tangy woodwinds), and the infectiousness of its dance rhythms. The solo work is superb throughout, but especially effective in the more raucous moments of the dinner.

Although there are plenty of good shots of Grimaud—both her face and her fingers—the camerawork in general tends to be too consistently close up, with a slightly claustrophobic effect. The image quality and the sound, though, are first-rate. Warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Metamorphosen for 23 solo Strings, AV 142 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1945; Germany 
Concerto for Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Hélène Grimaud (Piano)
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1931; France 
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Op. 60 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912; Germany 

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