MRDe-music Review: Memory Mutates Ravel But Prokofief Stays the Same.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (guest conductor)
Louis Lortie (piano)

Thursday, March 26, 2009 8pm
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto

Ravel: Alborada del gracioso
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

To start things off, I'll refer to my old Messaien review and my list categorizing different types of composers, which although lost in the great mrde- website hack of '08 but is now back, now existing independently of the great and lost Messaien reviews here

Looks to me like I should add a 10 to this this ...

10) Composers who seem better in memory than on hearing.

I'll put Ravel in this category.

I went to the show with fond memories of both the Piano Concerto in G Major and the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (along with less than good memories of Alborada del gracioso, not a fave for me. There's just something about French composers doing Spanish-influenced music that bugs me, even if the Fench composer in question was practically born in Spain. Oddly, I was remembering the wrong piece when I remembered it and I liked Alborda even less than the music I recall disliking, which is likely Rapsodie espagnole).

Despite fine performances by the TSO, Louis Lortie, and the work of guest conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, none of the three Ravel pieces on the program tonight stood up as integrated sensical works to my ear. It's not that I found them bad, as each of them have fine orchestration, good melodic and harmonic moments, and sound gorgeous as does everything from Ravel's pen, they just are less than the sum of their parts. Ravel was called by Stravinsky "the most perfect of Swiss Watchmakers", which may be apt.

Apt, because like a watch, these pieces are all made of up disparate elements, which may fit together and make something that works. But this is music, not a watch, and merely having a bunch of finely made bits that fit together doesn't make a piece to me.

But then, there's the 2nd movement of the G major concerto. To me, this movement worked; it was more a long single gesture, bringing you into a sweet, quiet yet slightly odd world, contrasted with the bitty Alborada del gracioso or the opening movement of the G Major concerto.

Ravel still has a weird effect on my mind though. Even now, as I write this a few days later, the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is again setting itself into my memory as a different experience than the one I remember from the show. The powerful effect of the deep dark opening with its contrabasson solo, the majestic writing for the piano echoed by the orchestra, and the central march section, with the ghostly variants on it building to a grand restatement. Forgotten increasingly is the bittiness, the feeling that the piece started and stopped, and the unsatisfying abruptness of the still-impressive conclusion. In my memory, there's a grand conclusion to the march that doesn't exist in reality, where a great build was terminated and new material was introduced instead.

Ravel's music ... too impressive to discount yet I still can't love it unreservedly. Before we leave Ravel, who by now likely hates me, I must damn Tom and Jerry after my companion for the evening commented something to the effect that the final movement of the G major sounded too much like a T&J score to really enjoy. Thanks for screwing Ravel over worse than I just did, you stupid cat and mouse. With luck, Ravel will be too busy kicking your creator's ass in the afterlife to bother with mine.

Well, I started off kicking at an iconic classical composer. I figure I may as well continue in the same vein. I've always found Prokofief at his most convincing in his concertos, not his symphonies. I've not revised this opinion on a revisit of his Symphony No. 5, although I did unreservedly enjoy the two middle movements of the four-movement piece. For some reason, dispite the majesty of the first and the energy of the last movement, something about them didn't grab me. One of these days I'll figure out why, but that's for another day, month, likely year and definitely another article (I should coin a new phrase for a web-article, something like blog which is a loathsome word that grates on my ear. The best I can come up with is a warticle though, which just ain't right).

Until this potential future Prokofief binge I'll just enjoy a recalling a particularly striking moment in the 2nd movement where a bright piercing woodwind section suddenly brings a striking new theme, dramatically cutting into the movement. You can listen and figure out what I'm talking about; we'll see if your impression of it matches mine.

PS: Toronto audiences, for {bad word}'s sake, not EVERY performance deserves a standing ovation. You've rendered them meaningless.

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