Schoenberg, Messiaen, Ravel

Francesco Piemontesi / Jonathan Nott / L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

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Schoenberg, Messiaen, Ravel Review

by James Manheim

The notes and publicity for this release by pianist Francesco Piemontesi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under new conductor Jonathan Nott tout the connections of all three of these 20th century works to the U.S. Those connections have limited explanatory power, for they are of fundamentally different kinds; Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major shows a strong influence of American music (it is interesting that Ravel, having declined to give George Gershwin composition lessons, manifestly learned a lot from him), while with Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, Op. 42, the connection is simply that the work was written in Los Angeles, with nothing particularly American about it. The tie in the case of Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques is even more tenuous; Messiaen based his piece on American recordings of birdsong. Nevertheless, all of these works are by major 20th century composers, and they all offer intriguing collisions between the venerable concerto form and contemporary procedures. Piemontesi shifts gears effectively among three very different works. He catches the various influences at work in the Ravel, which is not simply a jazz-flavored concerto but has elements of Basque music and a rhythmic structure that is more complex than it may first appear. His renditions of the more overtly modernist Messiaen and the difficult Schoenberg concerto, which pianists have criticized as unidiomatic to the instrument, are precise and careful. PentaTone's sound from Victoria Hall in Geneva is clear. This is a recording that will fill plenty of holes in 20th century music collections, or indeed, to judge from its commercial success, is already doing so.

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