Conductor: Hans Graf
Debussy: Images - Rondes de printemps, Gigues & Ibéria
Connesson: The Shining One - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Ravel: Suite No 2 from Daphnis et Chloé
After an evening of "Russian perfection" (Right on!) with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore on Thursday evening, I was happily back at the Kennedy Center for a an all-French program with the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening, never mind the fact that I was more familiar with the Russian works than the ones coming from my native country. Of course, the only one I still had vivid memories of was Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand performed by the very same Jean-Yves Thibaubet on that very same stage last year with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit. So that one was a sure value, and everything else sounded like a nice stroll into French musical impressionism (Even if Debussy vehemently resented that label).
And we started the concert with above-mentioned Debussy and its trio of musical "Images" from spring, England and Spain, all bristling with delicate touches of various colors, turning the exquisite harmonies into lively tableaux. While the first two were nice little affairs, the three-part Ibéria wonderfully evoked a Spanish village at three different times of the day, complete with clacking castanets, festive violins-as-guitars, ringing bells and the sensuous night-time. Under the sensitive baton of renown composer Hans Graf, the orchestra carefully brought out the composition's small but telling details for a winning performance.
After Debussy's multi-textured portraits, we were on for the world première of a a short piece commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and our very own NSO and dedicated to... Jean-Yves Thibaudet by its composer Guillaume Connesson. As its title indicates, The Shining One was inspired by a fantasy fiction and contains a lot of packed action in its nine-minute, one-movement score. Bringing out the wild streak underneath his classy surface, Jean-Yves Thibaudet brilliantly demonstrated that no piece is too short for him to get involved in, and ripped through it all with lightness and panache.
He was back after intermission for Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, which I savored even more that last year. Although only his left hand was at work, it grabbed the work from its sweepingly dramatic entrance and kept at it with devilish energy, casually throwing in a few cool jazzy chords for good measure. The solo passages were grand in their force and gentleness, and it eventually concluded in an apotheosis of virtuosity.
After his concerto, we went on to Ravel's luscious Daphnis et Chloé, which he composed for the hot new thing that were the Ballet Russes at the time. The Suite No 2 we heard last night is part of the happy finale, where the lovers are reunited, and the waves of lush violin sounds really made it clear that all was well that ended well for the young Greek couple... and for the NSO audience as well.