Saturday, December 14, 2002
RAVEL: PIANO CONCERTOS IN G AND D & 8 VALSES NOBLES
Composer: Maurice Ravel
Conductor: Pierre Boulez
Performer: Krystian Zimerman
Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra
Label: DG 4492132
Released: 8 January, 1999
Ravel's Piano Concerto in G was the work that convinced me to start taking a serious interest in jazz. I don't know whether it has had anything like the same effect on the tonally ascetic Pierre Boulez, but we should all be genuinely grateful for his masterful guidance of the Cleveland Orchestra on this wonderful recording. Rich and detailed, the orchestral sound ideally complements the striking sensitivity of Krystian Zimerman's performance. (Boulez feels this work in his bones, a fact which leaves you sensing that he is suppressing an unexpected dimension to his musical personality in some of the more ideological postures he strikes on late- and post-twentieth century music.)
As ever, the approach of the soloist is critical. Zimerman makes his initial allegro attack with aplomb, and he pulls off the concluding, dynamic presto with equal attitude. But is in the heart-wrenching adagio, around which the whole work revolves, that he is at his strongest. While not technically exhausting, this is a difficult movement to perform to its full potential. But Zimerman's timing, leaning off the elusive beat to exactly the right degree, is magnificent.
The eight Valses Nobles et Sentimentales are a charming distraction (no disparagement intended) upon which the Cleveland is able to shimmer and shine. They clean the palette for the dark, pounding feast that is the Concerto for Left Hand in D.
This is not my favourite recording of the Left Hand Concerto, but it comes pretty close. What it lacks in menace it makes up for in exquisite detail and panoramic scope. If you haven’t heard it before you are in for a dark and delightful treat. And quibbles aside, this surely amounts to a definitive recording of these three great works.
ADRIAN LEGG: GUITAR FOR MORTALS
Origin: Roadrunner Records, 1993
Current import: USA, BLOU10782
I was fortunate enough to come across this album, and indeed Adrian Legg as an artist, quite by chance. Around the time 'Guitar For Mortals' was released Steve Howe shared the same label, Roadrunner Records. I went to interview Howe in a dingy North London office not long after the release of his 'Turbulence' CD (q.v.) and I was fortuitously given a copy of the Legg album by a PR intermediary. It has stayed with me ever since: an old friend I sometimes ignore but am always delighted and surprised to meet again when the moment seizes.
Adrian Legg is a guitarist of supreme adaptability and fluidity. His influences range from Jaco Pastorius to Nanci Griffith (see track four), from classical to Cajun, jazz and beyond. Out of this varied tapestry of styles and aesthetics he is able to weave crafty arrays of tunes: some haunting, some playful, all of them clever and thoughtful without being in the least self-regarding. Legg is an inspiring talent and, even more, an instrumentalist of real musical intent. Which can be unusual these days. Give this a careful listen, especially the evocative 'A Candle In Notre Dame'. It is an album of rare grace, good humour and breadth.
When you have recovered try 'Guitars And Other Cathedrals' (1991) and 'Fingers And Thumbs' (1999). You will not be disappointed if you have open ears and an expectant attitude.