Showcase March-April 2014 - page 23

“The most captivating part
of jazz is its rich and
diverting rhythm.”
—Ravel
mar 22, 23
Program Notes
23
MARCH / APRIL 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
orchestration is extraordinary. The movement is often
said to evoke the languor of a lazy, warm Andalusian
night. The following
Malagueña
is rhythmically much
more active. It begins quietly in the double basses
and rises to a brilliant climax. The English horn next
gives forth a plaintive, exotic arabesque, after which
the basses return with their Malagueña motif. The
movement seems not so much to end as to evaporate
into thin air. The
Habanera
had its origins in an
unpublished piece Ravel had written in 1895 for two
pianos. So closely does it resemble Debussy’s
Soirée
dan Grenade
(1903) that Ravel noted the date of his
original piano version in the score to protect himself
against accusations of plagiarism. The
Feria
conjures
up the brilliance, commotion and joyous confusion
of a Spanish festival, offering the composer splendid
opportunities for dazzling orchestral effects and colors.
Instrumentation:
2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets,
bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, bass drum, castanets, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam,
triangle, tambourine, xylophone, celesta, 2 harps and strings
Program note by
Robert Markow
.
Maurice Ravel
Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra
Ravel was 54 before he wrote any concertos, and then,
in the fall of 1929, he set to work simultaneously on
two. His Concerto for Piano Left Hand, dark and
serious, was for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and the
other, the much lighter Piano Concerto in G major, was
intended for the composer’s own use. But by the fall of
1931, when the G-major concerto was complete, failing
health prevented the composer from performing this
music himself. Instead, he conducted the premiere in
Paris on January 14, 1932; the pianist was Marguerite
Long, to whom Ravel dedicated the concerto, and
who had also given the first performance of Ravel’s
Le Tombeau de Couperin
in 1919.
brilliant, transparent—and sultry
Ravel described this work as “written in the spirit of
Mozart and Saint-Saëns,” but listeners would hardly
make those associations. What strikes audiences first
are the concerto’s virtuoso writing for both piano and
orchestra, the brilliance and transparency of the music,
and the influence of American jazz. It is possible to
make too much of the jazz influence, but Ravel had
heard jazz during his tour of America in 1928 and
found much to admire. When asked about its influence
on this concerto, he said: “It includes some elements
borrowed from jazz, but only in moderation.” Ravel
was quite proud of this music and said that in it,
he had expressed his thoughts just as he had wished.
allegramente.
The first movement opens with a whipcrack,
and immediately the piccolo plays the jaunty opening
tune, picked up in turn by solo trumpet before the piano
makes its sultry solo entrance. Some of the concerto’s
most brilliant music occurs in this movement, which is
possessed of a sort of madcap energy, with great splashes
of instrumental color, strident flutter-tonguing by the
winds, string glissandos and a quasi-cadenza for the
harp.
adagio assai.
In a three-minute solo that opens the
Adagio
assai
, one of Ravel’s most beautiful slow movements,
the pianist lays out at length the haunting main theme,
which later returns to great effect with the English horn
heard over delicate piano accompaniment. Despite its
seemingly easy flow of melody, this movement gave
Ravel a great deal of trouble, and he later said that he
wrote it “two bars at a time.”
presto.
The finale explodes to life with a five-note riff
that recurs throughout, functioning somewhat like the
ritornello of the Baroque concerto. The jazz influence
shows up here in the squealing clarinets, brass smears
and racing piano passages. The movement comes to a
sizzling conclusion on the phrase with which it began.
Instrumentation:
solo piano with orchestra comprising flute, piccolo, oboe,
English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns,
trumpet, trombone, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum,
slap stick, tam-tam, triangle, wood block, harp and strings
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
.
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