Piano Concerto in G
Concerto for Piano (Left-hand) and Orchestra
Oleg Marshev (piano)
South Jutland Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 11-15 May 2009 in ALSION, Sønderborg, Denmark
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: December 2009
CD No: DANACORD
DACOCD 672 (2 CDs)
Duration: 82 minutes
Billed on the cover as “Oleg Marshev plays four French piano concertos” this two-disc selling-as-one set forms a useful compendium although whether it quite hits the target is another matter. Oleg Marshev is a fine and underrated pianist who has recorded regularly and with distinction for Danacord, and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra under its Russian conductor, Vladimir Ziva, are never less than sympathetic accompanists.
However, if the concept was to gather together ‘French’ works for piano and orchestra of the late-19th and early-20th centuries – incidentally César Franck was Belgian – might it not have been safer not to venture into quite such a hotly competitive field as the two Ravel Concertos and to have chosen instead Vincent D’Indy’s Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français and Fauré’s Ballade, neither of which is over-represented in the catalogue; and in common with Franck’s Symphonic Variations and Debussy’s Fantasie, both the D’Indy and Fauré are works dating from the 1880s.
Ironically, it is Debussy’s Fantasie, odd-man-out in the sense that all the other works are so much better known, which receives the most engaging performance. Its neglect is hardly surprising since it was withdrawn by the composer just as its first performance was about to take place (conducted by D’Indy). This is a work which many people came to know through an excellent Decca LP by Jean-Rodolphe Kars (with Alexander Gibson conducting). Marshev, a one-time pupil at the Gnesin school and a player with a notably warm piano sound, is clearly better attuned to this music (and to the Franck Variations which ‘feel’ as though they have been recorded with minimum editing) than to the crisp acerbities of Ravel, and in his hands Debussy’s slow movement (marked Lento e molto espressivo) hangs memorably in the air.
The recording location, the ALSION Concert Hall in Sønderborg, is a shoebox hall with “excellent clarity, long reverberation and ample loudness”. It certainly has long reverberation, although whether excellent clarity and long reverberation go hand in hand is a moot point. In any event the acoustic works well for both the Debussy and Franck, giving a warm halo despite the immediacy of the slightly bottom-heavy sound.
As to the two Ravel concertos with which the set opens and closes one wishes one could be more enthusiastic. Unfortunately there is what can only be described as a misalliance between these performers and this music which is compounded by the reverberant recording venue. The G major concerto needs to explode like the cork coming out of a champagne bottle; here with moderate tempos, a rather too full piano sound and less than metropolitan slickness from the orchestra, for the most part it plods. Two moments linger in the mind, though; the flute’s coolly poised and stylish entry in the slow movement after the long piano soliloquy tells you exactly what has been missing previously and, secondly, the work’s very close with the thwack on the drum lingering interminably tells you that the acoustic, whilst excellent for late-Romantic music, does few favours when it comes to the pristine clarity required in Ravel. The Left-hand concerto, with its crepuscular opening and weightier timbres, fares rather better.