Ravel: Concertos - Falla: Noches en los jardines de España

Ravel: Concertos - Falla: Noches en los jardines de España

“It’s very deep—the dark side of Ravel, and the last note is like a guillotine falling.” Alexandre Tharaud is talking to Apple Music Classical about Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, a work written in 1930 for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost an arm in World War I. “A lot of pianists don’t want to play this concerto, because it’s not easy.” Tharaud, however, finds himself irresistibly drawn to the Left Hand Concerto’s inner secrets. “I like it, I like the danger," he says. “Without the right hand to use, you feel uncomfortable as a pianist, because that is usually the hand that makes the music sing. This concerto is volcanic, even violent, but it’s also very well written for the soloist. There are maybe 30 other concertos for left hand, but Ravel was the only composer to find a good balance between the piano and the orchestra. I think it’s one of the most beautiful concertos in the history of music.” On his new album, Tharaud pairs his gripping interpretation of the Left Hand Concerto with Ravel’s much better known Piano Concerto in G Major, where both the soloist’s hands are needed. It is, he says, a very different type of composition. “The architecture, the sound, and the color are all different. The Piano Concerto in G is lighter, more classically poised, and more like Mozart.” Tharaud’s sparkling account of the G Major’s outer movements underlines the vivacity of Ravel’s musical imagination, and his remarkably acute ear for orchestration. The concerto’s slow movement, by contrast, is given an exquisitely poised performance, Tharaud in poetic dialogue with the Orchestre National de France’s eloquent English horn player. “There’s a lot of Ravel’s personality in this movement,” Tharaud muses. The third and final piece on the album is Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España(Nights in the Gardens of Spain), a three-part work which takes its musical cues from actual physical locations in the Alhambra in Granada, and the Sierra de Córdoba. For Tharaud, it poses a different sort of challenge to the Ravel concertos. “I imagine it as being like a ballet or an opera, where Falla wants to stimulate the imagination of the listener. Also, the role of the piano is different from what it is in a concerto—more inside the orchestra, as part of the overall texture. The soloist is not so obviously spotlit; perhaps that’s why the piece is not played so often in concert nowadays, as it should be.” But Tharaud has clear reasons for wanting to include Nights in the Gardens of Spain in an album mainly devoted to Ravel. “Falla spent seven years in Paris from 1907 to 1914, and met a lot of French composers,” he explains. “He and Ravel knew each other very well, and when I play their music together on this album I really feel that connection and that friendship deeply.”

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