Michel Camilo
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp (orch. Joseph Gianono)
Caribe
Michel Camilo (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin
CD No: DECCA 468 817-2
Duration:
Reviewed: August 2001
Any fan of Gershwin - especially his Piano Concerto and Cuban Overture – who relishes the colour and vibrancy of South American music, be it Villa-Lobos or something more ’popular’, should find themselves well served here. So too anyone who admires virtuoso piano-playing of a high order. If you need an intro to Camilo go to the last track – Caribe is his signature tune; this one-and-only-take is ’hot’!
Michel Camilo, born in Santo Domingo, begins his three-movement, 30-minute concerto with a suggestion of the great outdoors; the atmosphere is uniquely American, the space suggested is rocks, mountains and dusty trails (despite the composer’s marking of ’Religiosamente’). Soloistic concerns are met by elaborate cadenzas, the jazz side of Camilo’s musical life is established though within a ’classical’ definition of structure. More lyrical expression belongs touchingly to the American sense of nostalgia. Harmonies and rhythms are individual and unpredictable, the strains of a laconic nightclub pianist are intimated; it’s all tightly considered. Wild West belongings are emphasised with the generous melody that blossoms at 7’10”, something not too far from a ’Western’ film-score; I promise you it’ll float around your mind for hours. The blaze of pianistic display from 9’19”, which starts the high-energy final sequence, is well suggested by the orange cover; there’s plenty for the orchestra too.
OK, that’s the first movement! The following ’Andante’ begins with a simple, rather Ravelian tune (think G major Concerto, slow movement) with some ’blues’, solo decoration and full-throated ’symphony’ statement; muted trumpets add a distinctive voice. The ’Allegro’ finale resides in New York – punchy, fleet, dynamic – Mr Gershwin’s in town!
For the jazz-inspired suite, Camilo exchanges traditional Italian directions for … ’Tropical Jam’, ’Tango for Ten’, ’In Love’, and ’Journey’. After the bright and breezy opener - a winner on its own terms with some fabulous playing from Camilo – comes a tango-allusive set-piece, inventively cross-referenced and contrasted (and originally written for ten pianos!). ’In Love’ is misty-eyed reflection in the early hours – its ’mood’ derivation instantly recognisable but Camilo personalises it; the last movement’s excursion is multi-faceted and consistently inventive – again Gershwin looks in, maybe quoted, (well, he had rhythm too!).
I hesitate to say these are definitive performances – no doubt Camilo will play all this stuff differently next time; it’s a definitive recording though; in such scores, there’s nobody better than Slatkin to get just the right orchestral response.
I think the best closing word is … enjoy!

 

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