Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Review: Ravel’s Piano Concerto for Left Hand with Vincent Larderet excels in the Vancouver Symphony concert


Vincent Larderet playing the Ravel concerto in Poland

If you close your eyes and listen to the sounds emanating from the keyboard during Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for Left Hand,” you’d swear that there must be ten digits roaming over the keyboard. But in the hands of a virtuosic pianist like Vincent Larderet, listeners become mesmerized by the full array of sound that five fingers can make. That’s what I witnessed at the Vancouver Symphony concert Saturday evening (April 13) at Skyview Concert Hall, when Larderet played Ravel’s unusually compelling concerto.

Ravel completed the piece in 1930 for Paul Wittgenstein, a famous pianist who had lost his right arm as a soldier in WWI. Due to the wealth of his family, Wittgenstein commissioned concertos for the left hand from Ravel and other composers, such as Strauss, Britten, Korngold, Hindemith, and Prokofiev, but Ravel’s is the best of the lot, and has entered to standard repertoire.

In his introductory remarks, Brotons mentioned that he had first worked with Larderet 20 years ago in Barcelona, and with a twinkle in his eye, Brotons added, “Yes, I was younger then too!”

The piece began slowly, out of the depths, with a series of low notes from the double basses and the contra-bassoon before the rest of the orchestra joined in. After resting his right hand on the frame above the keyboard, Larderet entered the fray forcefully with a crunchy and almost defiant opening statement that emerged gradually from the lower portion of the keyboard. He surged ahead and created a fanfare-like statement before settling into a lyrical passage in the piano’s middle register. The piece transitioned into a march with Larderet creating brief, descending lines that were echoed at times by the orchestra. The music then quieted down a bit … only to gather more steam and adding more instruments along the way which reminded me of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Larderet deftly interjected a sparkling filigree of notes with accented droplets. He also executed an outstanding extended cadenza flawlessly, and the piece finished emphatic, sweeping crescendo.

A standing ovation brought Larderet back to center stage, and he responded with terrific encore, Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand.” The first part had a delicate, yet melancholic sentiment, and the second was more rhapsodic with a lovely melody that made me think of Rachmaninoff. It was all exquisitely played by Larderet, and that generated another standing ovation from the audience.

The concert began with the “Carmen Suite No. 1, in an arrangement by Ernest Giraud of beloved tunes from Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” From the fiery opening to the final robust Toreador theme, Brotons was in his element, conducting from memory, and eliciting fine performances from the entire ensemble. Highlights included the flutes invoking the imagery of swirling gypsies, the flute and harp evoking an innocent pastoral scene, the journey to the smuggler’s mountain hideout, and the bullfighters’ procession. It was all sculpted very well by Brotons, conveying the emotional core of Bizet’s music

Russian music from the Romantic period is one of Broton’s many fortes, and he got the orchestra firing on all cylinders in Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony (“Polish”). The first movement began with a heavy funerial before taking off over hill and dale with lovely melodies and finally concluding with a thrilling finale, which sparked enthusiastic applause from the audience. The emotive waltz in the second movement settled the mood with a refined elegance. In the third movement, the flutes, woodwinds, and horns were augmented by a steady heartbeat in the lower strings, which created a soothing feeling. The fourth offered excellent exchanges of passages between parts of the orchestra, and the fifth movement excelled to give an upbeat ending. One of its fugues moved seamlessly from the second violins to the first violins, then the violas, followed by the cellos and basses. Brotons got so involved in the music that at one point he suddenly jumped and turned at least 90 degrees to signal the first violins.

Sometimes in past performances of Tchaikovsky’s music, the brass would get a little too loud and overwhelm the strings, but this time, the brass and strings created an excellent balance. After the big finale, Brotons waded into the orchestra to acknowledge the contributions of each section. It was a jubilant gesture and a great way to end the concert.

Adding to the upbeat atmosphere, the orchestra announced its summer festival in downtown Vancouver (August 2 - 4) and also the programs for its next season. The VSO has scheduled lot of excellent concerts with superb soloists – a lot to look forward to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree - it was a fabulous concert and this review pegs it perfectly!