The National Philharmonic Orchestra's concert at the Music Academy last Sunday saw the realisation of a witty program selection: the opening and closing works of the evening projected the world of storytelling onto a symphonic musical canvas – first with Maurice Ravel's 1912 depiction of Snow White, Tom Thump, the Princess of the Pagodas and others, courtesy of the collection by the 17th century writer Charles Perrault, forming the basis for the ballet Mother Goose. The other was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Sinbad, Kalendar and Sultan Sahriar from the Thousand and One Nights, through this 1888 suite Sheherazade. In between these two works, framed by fairy tales it could be said, we heard Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand, representing bloody reality. It was written for Paul Wittgenstein, the younger brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who lost his arm in World War I, and with a tremendous strength of will, continued his career as a pianist by commissioning a host of works for left hand from composers such as Florent Schmidt, Korngold, Richard Strauss, Ravel and Britten. Knowing the full story of the work's origins, it is hard not to interpret the black as night colours of the contrabassoon, the demonic beats, brutal stresses and the rhythm of a returning theme evoking marching boots, as a musical depiction of the horrors of war.
There was another vista associated with this concert, and this directed attention to the musical personality of conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus. It was an evening of colours, different in each three of the works, and Casadesus reacted to them with conspicuous susceptibility. He extracted a particularly soft tone in the movements of the ballet: we heard a diaphanous veiled string sound, mother-of-pearl woodwind harmonies, mixtures of pastels, as he constructed lightly but expansively unfolding crescendi with masterly gradualness. If Casadesus began the concert with Mother Goose under the aegis of refinement, we can say in connection to the Rimsky-Korsakov suite of the second half, that he closed it under the sway of passion: it transpired he is a sensitive being when it comes to filigree musical motions, just what immensely powerful symphonic build-ups he is capable of. He demonstrated how he can make the orchestra play the returning thematic basic gestures of the work with wild and stubborn stress. As for the colours, the conductor facilitated the Eastern erotic shades of Sheherazade to surface, giving sound to those fusible tones, which is capable increasingly of communicating temperature and humidity through the means of sonority. Under his direction, the musicians of the National Philharmonic Orchestra showed their very best in both the symphonic works: they played with polish and precision, disciplined and yet freely. The concert master Gergely Kuklis interpreted the violin solo of Sheherezade, which befits a concerto, to a high level.
I have already talked about the colours of the Concerto for Left Hand: as for the orchestral playing, it is sufficient to say that performance was like the work itself – and this is the greatest praise. As for the soloist, in Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the individual meanings of the D major concerto found a supreme representative. Hearing the piano's first grand monologue, it had still not become clear whether the necessary differentiation of touch and phrasing was paired with the power and stamina demanded by the composition, although later, it was proven that Bavouzet articulated everything sensitively and intelligently which is the most important. He was able to communicate not just the exceptional fireworks experience of the concerto's virtuosity, but also a severe dignity and unshakable bearing, the presence of which canonises Ravel's creation as a protesting memorial against barbarism. (Music Academy, October 19, 2003)
(Hungarian Radio, Új Zenei Újság (New Music Magazine)