Let us say right from the start that we are dealing here with an exceptional album, outstandingly well played by all contributors. Exceptional is the compilation of works with piano-orchestra pieces by two French composers and one German composer. No one has ever dared to combine Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major from 1932, which is popular in the concert hall, with the Piano Concerto by the twelve-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg, which is still considered somewhat resistant up to today. The Ravel concerto fits well with the piano-orchestra work Oiseaux exotiques by Olivier Messiaen because of the French clarté of the composition, although this has also never been recorded in combination with the Ravel concerto.
The outstanding interpretation of all three works on this album owes as much to the pianist as to the orchestra and conductor. The Orchestre de la Swiss Romande, under Ernest Ansermet, the eminent Swiss conductor of the first half of the last century, rose to top form, as documented in countless recordings made over a quarter century on the Decca label. Later, under various conductors, the orchestra has clearly lost its reputation due to strongly changing quality. Fortunately, under Jonathan Nott, the Geneva-based orchestra is currently experiencing its second heyday, which it impressively confirms with this album released on the Pentatone label with superbly crafted playing. Added to this is Pentatone's well-recognized high recording quality, aimed at clarity, which has a similar standing and unique selling point to Decca at the dawn of the stereo era. All this, the orchestral playing and the high-resolution recording technique benefits the colorfulness and refined orchestration of the Ravel and Messiaen pieces, but also the Schoenberg Concerto, which has a reputation for being rather inaccessible, catapults the clarity of the orchestral playing and the recording into a new dimension where there is no question of gruffness.
Thirty-nine year old pianist Francesco Piemontesi proves to be a congenial, subtle pianist to the orchestra and conductor in all three compositions, indeed an ideal interpreter who succeeds in presenting the Schoenberg concerto as high quality and worth listening to and anything but recalcitrant, at least on a par with the competing recordings by Ax, Brendel and Uchida. In Messiaen's 1956 Oiseaux exotiques, Francesco Piemontesi proves to be a true aficionado of birdsong. The Ravel concerto, with its jazz elements, proves to be a true wonder, which the pianist realizes ravishingly together with the orchestra in exemplary openness, allowing one to hear clearly every facet of Ravel's orchestration, from the gentlest tam-tam strokes to a hypnotic passage with a series of harp harmonies. And the slow movement, which transports the listener to a fairy-tale in-between world where fragile tenderness prevails, succeeds almost overwhelmingly. It can be said with some justification that this interpretation of the Ravel concerto comes closer than any other to the unmatched genius rendition of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in 1958, accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ettore Gracis, which still sounds superb.
Francesco Piemontesi, piano
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Jonathan Nott, conductor