Aldo Ciccolini plays Three Concertos = SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 44; Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian‚’” RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major – VAI

by | Nov 5, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Aldo Ciccolini plays Concertos = SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto
No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 44; Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103
“Egyptian‚” RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major

Performed by RAI Radio Orchestra, Turin/ Antoni Ros-Marba, conductor
(Saint-Saens, Op. 44)/ Kirill Kondrashin, conductor (Saint-Saens, Op.
103)/ RAI Radio Orchestra, Milan/ Arturo Tamayo (Ravel)
Studio: VAI DVD 4352    
Video: 4:3 fullscreen color & B&W
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: ****

I have been fond of the Saint-Saens C Minor Piano Concerto ever since I
first heard Robert Casadesus and Artur Rodzinski perform it on an old
Columbia LP (ML 4246); then I heard Alexander Brailowsky and Charles
Munch  on RCA (LM 1871). Both melodious and structurally unified
after the manner of Liszt, the C Minor Concerto is perhaps Saint-Saens’
finest piano concerto, to which even Clara Schumann gave grudging
admiration, although she called the composer “less a musician than an
acrobat” at the keyboard. The live concert with Ciccolini and Ros-Marba
(12-6-85) employs four cameras, positioned behind Ciccolini, above the
entire ensemble, and two roaming among the various instruments of the
orchestra, to create something of musical pastiche as it unfolds in two
movements subdivided into four. Ciccolini’s performance is both elegant
and eminently muscular, taking in all sorts of double octaves, huge
spans and crossed hands, silky runs, and finally, a hard-won chorale
which adds brilliant figurations. The cameras give us the nice
interplay from oboe, flute, French horns, trumpets, and pizzicato
strings. The whole spins out in virtuoso style, with a lean Ros-Marba
leading the music from the score but still able to elicit a rich sound
from his orchestra. Ciccolini rewards the grateful applause with a
little, melancholy Schubert G-flat waltz encore.

The earlier concert with the great Kirill Kondrashin (17 May 1974) is
in black and white. The young Ciccolini looks like actor Armand Assante
in his matinee days, with a James Dean coif. Kondrashin is in a fine
fettle: his usual, intense self, leading without baton but with a right
hand that jabs the air like Robert Ryan in a boxing movie. The eye
contact Kondrashin insists upon with his soloist keeps the ensemble
extremely focused; and although the camera rarely gives us the
conductor in close-up, the few moments have us mesmerized by the
independence of the conductor’s hands. Some liquid, soft, pearly play
from Ciccolini at the end of the first movement. The second movement
justifies the appellation, “Egyptian,” given that Saint-Saens means
North Africa, likely the zither-strumming from Tunisia. Some of the
later “orientalisms” are effected with a digital dexterity worthy of
Chico Marx! A nice touch is the reflection from the piano itself onto
Ciccolini’s hands as he intones the soft chorale section, then a
superimposed solo violin shot as the accompaniment fills out the
melodic line. The oboe weaves its magic, then the flutes, strings. and
piano chime in, with the help of Kondrashin’s subito. The lightweight
Mendelssohnian Molto allegro is pure bravura, galloping and charming,
the tensions relaxed but still capable of volatile fioritura. The
ensuing applause and mutual rapport between soloist and conductor is a
document in itself.

The Ravel from Sala Verdi in Milan (27 November 1993) starts with a
brilliant flurry between piccolo, trumpet, piano, strings, and oboe;
then the jazzy elements come in Technicolor om every level. Ciccolini
had recorded the Ravel concertos with Martinon for EMI, but to see him
interact with the pair of bassoons is quite a thrill. The lion’s mane
is quite golden by now, the features have thickened, but the nimble
dexterity of the piano part is thoroughly under his hands, often shot
in profile from the wrist down. The first movement harp solo has her
own camera shot, which she shares only with the triangle. Muted French
horn amid warbling jazz riffs takes us to the elongated melodic tissue
in the piano, with Ciccolini’s trills in superb form. A wild rush to
the coda, and then conductor Tamayo can fix his hair. The second
movement opens with an extended solo cantilena by Ciccolini, who trills
into the flute solo, then oboe, and a medium shot of the ensemble from
the audience’s perspective. The repetitive riffs in the keyboard might
owe something to Chopin’s slow movement from the B Minor Sonata; here
they merge with the oboe most wistfully. The cameras try as much as
possible to capture the perpetual motion of the last movement, a Presto
in quick, soft Gershwin colors. Long shots of the principals, with
plenty of fireworks from Ciccolini’s fingers. Hearty applause, hearty
handshakes all around. Bravo!

–Gary Lemco

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