Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Ravel Day, Wigmore Hall, 29 February 2004

There can't be many nicer ways to spend a freezing Sunday than sitting in the Wigmore Hall listening to Ravel, Fauré and Debussy. When Philippe Graffin and Pascal Devoyon's 10th Anniversary Concert evolved into two concerts in one day entitled 'Ravel: A Masterly Pupil' - placing the great man alongside his most eminent teacher, Fauré - I was very touched to be asked to give the pre-concert talk.

I swotted Ravel like mad, ended up writing an article about him for The Independent (see link) and discovered some excellent musical comparisons. For example, did you know that the opening of Ravel's Sonatine is virtually modelled on the opening of Fauré's A major Violin Sonata? No, neither did I until a couple of weeks ago. So much in music is simply waiting to be found. We know so many pieces so well by ear - parrot fashion, if you like - yet to have the opportunity to stop, look and notice such things is all too rare. To emerge feeling as if you really know these pieces for the first time is incredibly valuable in a world where we take them so much for granted.

The concerts were marvellous. Philippe and Pascal joined forces with Nobuko Imai and two fabulous Finns, cellist Martti Rousi and his violinist brother Tuomas Rousi. In the coffee concert they played the Fauré Second Piano Quartet and the Ravel String Quartet; the afternoon was mostly duos - Ravel's early Violin Sonata, short pieces by him and Fauré, the Duo for Violin and Cello; then, to finish, the Debussy Cello Sonata and the Ravel Trio. Philippe has a sound all his own - never one to play safe, he takes risks and discovers marvels at the top of the slide... Pascal's exquisite pianism is deep and crisp and even...and Martti has to be seen to be believed, a larger than life personality whose involvement in and projection of the music is mesmerising. In case you haven't come across him before (I hadn't), he runs the Turku Chamber Music Festival in Finland and has won a Silver Medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition.

I was happy that Philippe and Pascal came to join the talk and allowed me to turn myself briefly into Parkinson for a short open interview with them. Philippe talked about Ravel's classmate Enescu, mentor to one of Philippe's own mentors, Yehudi Menuhin; Pascal offered some fascinating insights into Ravel and Debussy's contrasting styles of piano writing; and they both had some interesting contributions to make on the issue of what makes a good duo. I hope I didn't wreck the whole thing by saying 'Cassez une jambe'!

And what makes a good concert? Several of you have said to me that the Ravel experience will 'stay with me for a long time'. Really, that says it all.

See links on left to my Ravel article in The Independent, and websites for Philippe Graffin and Pascal Devoyon.

Philippe's new recording of the violin concertos by Dvorak and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is about to be released on the Avie label. It's the world premiere recording of the Coleridge-Taylor, a gorgeous, gorgeous piece by an extraordinary figure, a black British composer from the early 20th century. Philippe recorded it in South Africa with the Johannesburg Philharmonic - no doubt a story in itself.

Philippe and Pascal have recently made a new recording for Hyperion of rare sonatas by Canteloube and Pierre de Bréville. Scheduled, I believe, for release in June.

Links on left to Avie and Hyperion.