About this Recording
8.550753 - RAVEL: Piano Concertos / FALLA: Nights in Gardens of Spain

Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)

Piano Concerto in G major
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Manuel de Falla (1876 - 1946)
Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Noches en los jardines de España)

From his father, a Swiss engineer, Ravel inherited a delight in precision and incidentally in mechanical toys, while from his Basque mother he acquired a familiarity with something of Spanish culture. Born in the village of Ciboure in the Basque region of France in 1875, he spent his childhood and adolescence in Paris, starting piano lessons at the age of seven and from the age of fourteen studying piano in the preparatory piano class of the Conservatoire. He left the Conservatoire in 1895, after failing to win the necessary prizes, but resumed studies there three years later under Gabriel Fauré. His repeated failure to win the Prix de Rome, even when well established as a composer, disqualified in his fifth attempt in 1905, resulted in a scandal that led to changes in that august institution, of which Fauré then became director.

Ravel's career continued successfully in the years before 1914 with a series of works of originality, including important additions to the piano repertoire, to the repertoire of French song and, with commissions from Dyagilev, to ballet. During the war he enlisted in 1915 as a driver and the war years left relatively little time and will for composition, particularly with the death of his mother in 1917. By 1920, however, he had begun to recover his spirits and resumed work, with a series of compositions, including an orchestration of La valse, rejected by Dyagilev, causing a rupture in their relations, and a number of engagements as a pianist and conductor in concerts of his own works at home and abroad. All this was brought to an end by his protracted final illness, attributed to a taxi accident in 1932, which led to his eventual death in 1937.

The two piano concertos of Ravel, the second, for left hand, commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the philosopher, who had lost his right arm in the war, were written between 1929 and 1931. The G major Concerto, at first conceived as a Basque Rhapsody, was dedicated to Marguerite Long, who was the soloist in the first performance at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on 14th January 1933. Originally conceived as a Divertissement for Ravel's own concert use, it is relatively lightly scored, although the percussion section includes triangle, drum, cymbals, side-drum, gong, wood-block and whip. Ravel claimed to have taken the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet as a model for his Adagio, and for the composition of the whole work, which took him some time, made a close study of scores of concertos by Mozart and Saint-Saëns. The jazz element of the first movement, with suggestions of Gershwin, yet fully absorbed into Ravel's own idiom, leads to the beautiful and nostalgic piano solo that starts the second movement. The motor rhythms of the last movement and the lively syncopations complete a concerto of elegance, briliance and wit.

Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, in D major, is a remarkable tour de force, providing the one hand with as much to do as two hands. The slow first section is followed by a piano passage in the nature of an improvisation, introducing a jazz element, in fact derived from the opening. Scoring is for a larger orchestra than the two-handed concerto, with three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, where the other has only one trumpet and one trombone. The complement of percussion is similar. There is an ominous melody heard at the start, played in the depths of the woodwind section, with an accompanying repeated figure in the double basses. This slow introduction swells in volume, leading to the appearance of the piano, the solo passage ending with a fine flourish that ushers in the orchestra once more. When the piano returns, it is with material that shows more clearly the influence of jazz, although transformed by the idiosyncratic musical language of Ravel. The concerto, in one continuous movement, was given its first performance in Vienna on 27th November 1931.

Manuel de Falla, born in Cádiz in 1876, studied in Madrid, where he was a pupil of the leading nationalist composer Pedrell. In 1907 he went to Paris, finding there an ambience that suited him very well. It was here that he first planned Nights in the Gardens of Spain, conceived originally as a series of pieces for solo piano, until Ricardo Viñes, the Catalan pianist, teacher of Poulenc and leading exponent of contemporary French and Spanish music, persuaded him to adopt the form of a work in three movements for piano and orchestra. De Falla wrote the work after his return to Spain in 1914, dedicating it to Ricardo Vines. The first performance was given in Madrid in April 1916 with the pianist José Cubiles, under the direction of Enrique Fernandez Arbós. It was introduced to London audiences in 1921, when the composer appeared as soloist. These so-called symphonic impressions are less symphonic than impressionistic, starting with an evocative depiction of the gardens of the Generalife near the Alhambra, monument to the Moorish rule of Granada. The Danza lejana (Distant Dance) of the second movement leads to the final impression of the gardens of la Sierra de Córdoba. The composer himself settled in Granada, after his return from Paris, investigating and absorbing there the spirit of Andalusia, of which the whole work is redolent.

François-Joël Thiollier

Franco-American by birth, the pianist François-Joël Thiollier was born in Paris and gave his first concert in New York in age of five. His teachers included Robert Casadesus in Paris and Sascha Gorodnitzki at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. His eight Grands Prix in international competitions include triumph in both the Brussels Queen Elisabeth and the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competitions. Boasting an exceptionally large repertoire of some seventy concerti, Thiollier enjoys wide international success, appearing with major orchestras and in recital in the most famous concert halls of Europe. At the same time he has made some forty recordings including a release of the complete piano music of Rachmaninov and of Gershwin, and, for Naxos, a world premiere compact disc recording of the complete piano music of Maurice Ravel.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till the outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra was resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became ar1istic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO will record the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.

Antoni Wit
Antoni Wit was born in Cracow in 1944 and studied there, before becoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw in 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor first of the Pomeranian Philharmonic and then of the Cracow Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has under1aken many engagements abroad with major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras to the Kusatsu Festival Orchestra in Japan.

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