RAVEL: Piano Concertos / FALLA: Nights in Gardens of Spain (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Francois-Joel Thiollier/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550753)
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Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
Piano Concerto in G major
Piano Concerto for the Left HandManuel de Falla (1876 - 1946)
Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Noches en los jardines de Espana)
From his father, a Swiss engineer, Ravel inherited a delight in precision andincidentally in mechanical toys, while from his Basque mother he acquired afamiliarity with something of Spanish culture. Born in the village of Ciboure inthe Basque region of France in 1875, he spent his childhood and adolescence inParis, starting piano lessons at the age of seven and from the age of fourteenstudying piano in the preparatory piano class of the Conservatoire. He left theConservatoire in 1895, after failing to win the necessary prizes, but resumedstudies there three years later under Gabriel Faure. His repeated failure towin the Prix de Rome, even when well established as a composer, disqualified inhis fifth attempt in 1905, resulted in a scandal that led to changes in thataugust institution, of which Faure then became director.
Ravel's career continued successfully in the years before 1914 with a seriesof works of originality, including important additions to the piano repertoire,to the repertoire of French song and, with commissions from Dyagilev, to ballet.
During the war he enlisted in 1915 as a driver and the war years left relativelylittle time and will for composition, particularly with the death of his motherin 1917. By 1920, however, he had begun to recover his spirits and resumed work,with a series of compositions, including an orchestration of La valse,rejected by Dyagilev, causing a rupture in their relations, and a number ofengagements as a pianist and conductor in concerts of his own works at home andabroad. All this was brought to an end by his protracted final illness,attributed to a taxi accident in 1932, which led to his eventual death in 1937.
The two piano concertos of Ravel, the second, for left hand, commissioned byPaul Wittgenstein, brother of the philosopher, who had lost his right arm in thewar, were written between 1929 and 1931. The G major Concerto, at firstconceived as a Basque Rhapsody, was dedicated to Marguerite Long, who was thesoloist in the first performance at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on 14th January1933. Originally conceived as a Divertissement for Ravel's own concert use, itis relatively lightly scored, although the percussion section includes triangle,drum, cymbals, side-drum, gong, wood-block and whip. Ravel claimed to have takenthe slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet as a model for his Adagio,and for the composition of the whole work, which took him some time, made aclose study of scores of concertos by Mozart and Saint-Sa?½ns. The jazz elementof the first movement, with suggestions of Gershwin, yet fully absorbed intoRavel's own idiom, leads to the beautiful and nostalgic piano solo that startsthe second movement. The motor rhythms of the last movement and the livelysyncopations complete a concerto of elegance, briliance and wit.
Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, in D major, is a remarkable tourde force, providing the one hand with as much to do as two hands. The slow firstsection is followed by a piano passage in the nature of an improvisation,introducing a jazz element, in fact derived from the opening. Scoring is for alarger orchestra than the two-handed concerto, with three trumpets, threetrombones and tuba, where the other has only one trumpet and one trombone. Thecomplement of percussion is similar. There is an ominous melody heard at thestart, played in the depths of the woodwind section, with an accompanyingrepeated figure in the double basses. This slow introduction swells in volume,leading to the appearance of the piano, the solo passage ending with a fineflourish that ushers in the orchestra once more. When the piano returns, it iswith material that shows more clearly the influence of jazz, althoughtransformed by the idiosyncratic musical language of Ravel. The concerto, in onecontinuous movement, was given its first performance in Vienna on 27th November1931.
Manuel de Falla, born in Cadiz in 1876, studied in Madrid, where he was apupil of the leading nationalist composer Pedrell. In 1907 he went to Paris,finding there an ambience that suited him very well. It was here that he firstplanned Nights in the Gardens of Spain, conceived originally as a seriesof pieces for solo piano, until Ricardo Vines, the Catalan pianist, teacher ofPoulenc and leading exponent of contemporary French and Spanish music, persuadedhim to adopt the form of a work in three movements for piano and orchestra. DeFalla wrote the work after his return to Spain in 1914, dedicating it to RicardoVines. The first performance was given in Madrid in April 1916 with the pianistJose Cubiles, under the direction of Enrique Fernandez Arbos. It wasintroduced to London audiences in 1921, when the composer appeared as soloist.
These so-called symphonic impressions are less symphonic than impressionistic,starting with an evocative depiction of the gardens of the Generalife near theAlhambra, monument to the Moorish rule of Granada. The Danza lejana
(Distant Dance) of the second movement leads to the final impression of thegardens of la Sierra de Cordoba. The composer himself settled in Granada, afterhis return from Paris, investigating and absorbing there the spirit ofAndalusia, of which the whole work is redolent.
Franco-American by birth, the pianist Fran?ºois-Jo?½l Thiollier was born inParis and gave his first concert in New York in age of five. His teachersincluded Robert Casadesus in Paris and Sascha Gorodnitzki at the JuilliardSchool of Music in New York. His eight Grands Prix in international competitionsinclude triumph in both the Brussels Queen Elisabeth and the Moscow TchaikovskyCompetitions. Boasting an exceptionally large repertoire of some seventyconcerti, Thiollier enjoys wide international success, appearing with majororchestras and in recital in the most famous concert halls of Europe. At thesame time he has made some forty recordings including a release of the completepiano music of Rachmaninov and of Gershwin, and, for Naxos, a world premierecompact disc recording of the complete piano music of Maurice Ravel.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was foundedin 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polish conductor andcomposer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till theoutbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestrawas resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became ar1istic director of thePNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - JanKrenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk,Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared withconductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for PolskieNagrania and many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO will recordthe complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.
Antoni Wit was born in Cracow in 1944 and studied there, before becomingassistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsawin 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study atTanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by app