Ian Parker / Michael Francis / London Symphony Orchestra

Ravel, Stravinsky, Gershwin: Piano Concertos

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The three works for piano and orchestra on this recording by Ian Parker with conductor Michael Francis and the London Symphony Orchestra make perfect sense as a program. Ravel and Stravinsky both looked to the clarity and gracefulness of Mozart's piano concertos for their Piano Concerto in G and the Capriccio, respectively, and both use elements of jazz and the blues. The Ravel concerto also contains aural hints of Stravinsky's ballets. Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F straddles the worlds of jazz and classical music, and he once sought instruction from Ravel. Parker's and Francis' reading of the Ravel and Stravinsky highlight the similarities of the two. They both have an airy weight that brings out the elegance and buoyant animation, especially in the first movement of the Ravel and the last movement of the Stravinsky. The beautiful middle of the Ravel is calm, almost to the point of stillness, and meandering, but not without direction and some momentum. The opening of the Stravinsky is more dramatic, but Parker and Francis keep its intensity well within the proportions of the rest of the work, so that it isn't jarringly different, even from the Ravel. The Gershwin, on the other hand, feels much heavier, not because of the performance, but because of the denser orchestration. The first movement manages to maintain the liveliness found in the Ravel and Stravinsky, but when Parker applies a similar sensibility to Gershwin's slow movement that he used in the Ravel, it seems to lose its way to some extent. The trumpet soloist adds a little more bluesy tone than most do in that movement, but it isn't enough to push it along more. By the final movement, the weightiness of the music seems to have blunted the keen vigor in everyone, but they pull out enough energy to finish quite satisfactorily. All three pieces would have been enhanced by a crisper recording sound to make Parker's and the orchestra's playing brighter and more vibrant. As it is, the combination of concertos and the performances is still worthy of a solid recommendation.

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