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RAVEL G MAJOR CONCERTO
for piano and orchestra (1929-1931)



The Ravel G major piano concerto is a revelatory work.  Jazz influences abound and are seamlessly integrated into the piano score and orchestration of the concerto.  Ravel's success in the blending of Jazz and Classical elements is matched only by George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and you will hear Gershwin clearly in the first movement of this work.  In 1928, Ravel had undertaken a very successful tour of the the United States where he met Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and other Jazz greats. Their influence on Ravel was profound.

Of the group of recordings of the Ravel G major piano concerto offered below, six plus are beautifully played by Martha Argerich.  All are fine performances.

The Adagio assai is the movement that melts me.  It is very difficult to play in that the exquisitely languid melody must maintain its plasticity and float over a bass that is determined to bring it to ground.  In the wrong hands the base can have an element of the oom-pah-pah and the melody cannot maintain its forward momentum, delicate as it is.  The Bernstein and de Larrocha recordings of the Ravel G major concerto are symptomatic of those regrettably falling prey to this.  However, the Bernstein performances are Ravel at his jazziest and wonderful to hear. It is interesting to note that his performances get slower as he gets older, as do his orchestral recordings.

The recordings of the Ravel G major concerto that I find most enchanting are those by Martha Argerich, Hélène Grimaud (the Lopez-Cobos version), Monique Haas, and Cor de Groot.  They all achieve the plasticity I spoke of in part through the use of a subtle rubato, avoiding that the melodic beats fall squarely on the bass.  De Groot, one of the worlds most wonderful, if relatively unsung, pianists, has a singing legato, even in pianissimo passages, bell-like, that overcomes all.  He makes more of the left hand than do the others, giving it the rubato and a linear quality that results in a contrapuntal effect.  His timbre is orchestral and builds in intensity with the orchestras increasing participation.  A stunning performance, poor recording quality notwithstanding.

And all four of Michelangeli's performances of the Ravel G major piano concerto, spanning forty years, are masterpieces.  He is such a supreme artist that no matter what he does, it just works brilliantly.  In the recordings conducted by Celibidache ... Well, just listen.  The great Australian pianist, Eileen Joyce, said that Celibidache was the greatest conductor she had ever worked with, that "he was the only one who got inside my soul".  See if he gets inside Michelangeli's soul

But the pièce de résistance is the Adagio from the recording by Marguerite Long, to whom Ravel dedicated the concerto, conducted by the composer. The concerto was given its première By Long with Ravel conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra not long before this recording was made.

[It is now thought that this recording was not in fact conducted by Ravel but by Pedro de Freitas-Branco, a Portuguese conductor under the supervision of Maurice Ravel.  It is apparently a certainty that Freitas-Branco did conduct the other works performed at the concert in which Ravel conducted the premiere of the Concerto]

Ravel had said of a performance of his music by Toscanini, “I don’t ask for my music to be interpreted, but only that it should be played.”  This is an apt description of his own performance style which tended toward being clipped, almost abrupt, eschewing sentimentality and romanticism, and it is in this style that Marguerite Long plays the Ravel G major concerto. Interestingly, the vertical element of the Adagio is attenuated by the way in which it maintains its forward impetus, lilting and, yes, lightly bouncing its way to its inevitable conclusion.

The Ravel G major piano concerto is in three movements:

i Allegramente
ii Adagio assai
iii Presto

Some of the below recordings are incomplete and most of those are of the second movement only.  But I include them because of the stunning beauty of the slow movement. 

And at the very end is a comparison of eleven great pianists playing the cadenza from the first movement with thanks to Gullivior. So please check out the Ravel G major II page.



MARGUERITE LONG
French pianist (1874-1966)


Maurice Ravel [or Pedro de Freitas-Branco] 
conducting l'Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire

ii Adagio assai

recorded in 1932




G. Tzipine conducting l'Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire

recorded in 1952


Allegramente



ii Adagio assai
10:04  iii Presto




YVONNE LEFÉBURE
French pianist
 (1898-1986)

Paul Paray conducting l'Orchestre National de l'Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française

i Allegramente
07:51  ii Adagio assai
16:29  iii Presto

recorded in 1970




JEAN DOYEN
French pianist (1907-1982)

Jean Fournet conducting l'Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux

recorded in 1954




MONIQUE HAAS
French pianist (1909-1987)


Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting the Orchester des Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks

recorded in 1948




Paul Paray conducting l'Orchestre National de la RTF, Paris

ii Adagio assai




JACQUELINE BLANCARD
Swiss pianist (1909-1994)

Ernest Ansermet conducting l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande




YAKOV ZAK
Soviet pianist (1913-1976)

Evgeny Svetlanov conducting the USSR State Symphony Orchestra

recorded in 1959




COR de GROOT
Dutch pianist
 (1914-1993)

Eduard van Beinum conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orkest

recorded live in 1940 


i Allegramente



ii Adagio assai
08:57  iii Presto




BRANKA MUSULIN
Croatian-German pianist (1917-1975)

Wilhelm Schüchter conducting the Berlín Symphony Orchestra 

i Allegramente
08:44  ii Adagio assai
18:14  iii Presto




LEONARD BERNSTEIN
American pianist and conductor (1918-1990)


conducting an unidentified orchestra from the piano
recorded in 1946




conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra from the piano
recorded in 1959




conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from the piano




conducting l'Orchestre National de France from the piano
live video in 1975




ARTURO BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI
Italian pianist (1920-1995)


Igor Markevich conducting l'Orchestra Stabile dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
recorded live in 1952

i Allegramente



ii Adagio assai



iii Presto




Ettore Gracis conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra
recorded in 1957




Sergiu Celibidache conducting the London Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 1982




Sergiu Celibidache conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
recorded live in 1992



ALICIA DE LARROCHA
Spanish-Catalan pianist (1923-2009)


Jesus Lopez Cobos conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

i Allegramente

1997 video



Leonard Slatkin conducting the St Louis Symphony Orchestra

ii Adagio assai




SAMSON FRANÇOIS
French pianist (1924-1970)

André Cluytens conducting l'Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire

i Allegramente
07:45  ii Adagio assai
16:28  iii Presto

recorded in 1959




ALDO CICCOLINI
Italian-French pianist
 (b 1925)

Arturo Tamayo conducting l'Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI
1993 video

i Allegramente
09:10  ii Adagio assai
19:00  iii Presto



IVAN MORAVEC
Czech pianist (b 1930)

unidentified conductor and Czech orchestra

1983 video


Allegramente



ii Adagio assai



iii Presto




WERNER HAAS
German pianist (1931-1976)

Alceo Galliera conducting l'Orchestre National de l'Opera de Monte-Carlo

ii Adagio assai




JOAQUIN ACHÚCARRO
Spanish Basque pianist (b 1936)

Gilbert Varga conducting the Euskadi (Basque National) Symphony Orchestra

i Allegramente
08:56  ii Adagio assai
19:14  iii Presto




MICHAEL STUDER
Swiss pianist (b 1940)

Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting l'Orchestra de la Suisse Romande

ii Adagio assai

recorded live in 1979




MARTHA ARGERICH 
Argentine pianist (b 1941)


Claudio Abbado conducting l'Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI
1969 video

i Allegramente
08:45  ii Adagio assai
18:40  iii Presto



Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


i Allegramente



ii Adagio assai



iii Presto




Ernest Bour conducting SWF Radio Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 1960

ii Adagio assai




Aldo Ceccato conducting the North german Radio Orchestra Hannover
1985 video




Charles Dutoit conducting the Orchestre National de France
recorded in 1990




Andrej Boreyko conducting l'Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai Torino




Felipe Izcaray conducting l'Orquesta Sinfónica de Salta (Argentina)
2004 video

i Allegramente



ii Adagio assai



iii Presto










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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Or go to the Ravel G major Piano Concerto II page



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