Schoenberg, Ravel: Piano Concertos - Piemontesi, Nott
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186949
Classical - Orchestral
Schoenberg: Piano Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto
Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques
Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Jonathan Nott (conductor)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 30, 2022
Pentatone has been criticized in some circles for no longer being at the sharp end of quality recording. That may be so, and possibly for reasons of commercial survival, but if a new recording does hit the moon we must welcome and commend it. It is no secret that High-Resolution Super Audio, notably but not exclusively in physical format is under pressure. We, at HRAudio should, therefore, take a special interest in encouraging labels to continue to cater to the ‘niche’ we are.
After having listened several times, I have no hesitation in welcoming and commending this latest release, both in terms of musical and sound quality. We have here a brilliant example of what on the one hand a British conductor, a French-Swiss orchestra (Suisse Romande), and an Italian-Swiss pianist (Svizzera Italiana) “of exceptional refinement of expression”, can do, and what, on the other, Erdo Groot can produce editing the results of the recording sessions.
Considering this release in more detail: Despite the common denominator of “all three have American connections”, the combination of works is unusual. The liner notes do, in fact, recognize that they are “stylistically very different”. Sufficient reason, therefore, to take all three at face value.
Beginning with Ravel’s G Major Concerto, there is admittedly no shortage of available recordings. Around two dozen on SACD alone. Some very good, though, for various reasons, certainly not all. Past recommendations cover Ravel: Piano Concerto, Concerto for the left hand, Schmitt - Larderet, Kawka and Ravel: Piano Concerto, Debussy, Massenet - Bavouzet, Tortelier. I don’t want to dwell for too long on this, inviting all those interested to sample available snippets to decide whether or not this rendition favourably replaces any cherished version you may already own. Suffice it to say that I rate Francesco Piemontesi’s reading to be in the top echelon and that both l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and its Musical and Artistic Director, Jonathan Nott, provide an enviably supportive framework for Piemontesi to excel.
Messiaen’s style is as incomparable as any of his works. Always experimenting it is hard to classify this unique composer. His ‘Oiseaux exotiques’ (exotic birds) become a desirable box of birds in Piemontesi’s lofty reading. And one must also compliment the participating members of the orchestra. Having said that I can’t help feeling that these 15 minutes have been chosen as a kind of ‘filler’. If so, it is one of the better we usually get. Not only because it is well played, though perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but also because it is hard to come by on record and not at all in Super Audio.
However, the real boon, deserving all our attention, is this new recording of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, thus far unavailable in high resolution of any kind. One may wonder why that is so. Though still regarded as ‘contemporary’, we may, after some eighty years and so many follow-on contemporary stuff, question if that’s still correct. My personal view: Not quite. Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique (“a systemized form of atonality which gives equal importance to each of the twelve chromatic tones”) is unique and therefore as ‘classic’ as it remains ‘modern’.
I do not share someone’s view that “The piece is not meant to sound pretty but yet more or less meant to sound creepy”. When I was young Arnold Schoenberg’s style made me feel ‘uneasy’, but now, at a more mature age, it adds another dimension to my appreciation, like a missing element falling into place. On one condition, though, that the interpreters are at a level to give full expression to Schoenberg’s conceptual spirit and that soloist, conductor and orchestra take an equal share in this effort.
It may be clear that I was thrilled with the result. What some may feel as ‘haunting’ in the first part, becomes, in the hands of Francesco Piemontesi and not least in that of Jonathan Nott, almost idyllic poetry (“Life was so easy”), contrasted in the second part by what may perhaps best be described like ominous shadows of European war-sufferings (“Suddenly hatred broke out”). The musical Trias of soloist, conductor, and orchestra, show themselves wonderfully flexible, shifting to the third part with ease and developing an initial fair bit of tenderness into a multi-coloured patchwork (“A grave situation was created"), where Knott lets the orchestra share in the overall concertante fabric. In the fourth and final part (“But life goes on”), the threesome embark on a kind of delicate mockery and subsequent stubbornness ending in a magistral statement of triumph.
This rendition of a visionary composer’s concerto is indisputably worth listening to, over and over again. Indeed, Piemontesi, Knott, and the Orchestra de la Swisse Romande, have reinstated the masterpiece this concerto by all means is. And what is more, Erdo Groot has done a great job.
Blangy-le- Château, Normandy, France.
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