Tag Archives: Ravel

Nathalia Milstein @ St Ann’s Church, Dublin (11 October 2016)

Last year she won the Dublin International Piano Competition, in February she gave a recital at The National Concert Hall, and tonight Nathalia Milstein (“mill-shtyne”) begins a ten-day tour of Ireland with this concert in St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street.

Her wide-ranging programme takes in Bach, Mozart, Bartók, Liszt, Ravel, and the piece commissioned from Gráinne Mulvey for the Dublin International Piano Competition. The insightful programme notes, written by classical journalist and reviewer Pat O’Kelly, supply background and context for the diverse pieces: Bach walking for ten days to hear an inspirational keyboardist, Mozart as a busy 18-year-old musician performing his latest sonatas in Munich, and of course a few hints about the composers’ love lives. It is necessary (and frequently fascinating) to have these human reference points alongside an art form that can so easily become rarified.

Milstein gives a riveting performance of Gráinne Mulvey’s Interference Patterns, drawing on the lyrical style of the Liszt that preceded it, and also the intense energy of The Chase from the Bartók suite. Mulvey’s piece is inspired by the work of 19th century Irish scientist John Tyndall on the behaviour of waves when they meet an obstacle. A most vivid expression of this is achieved towards the end of the piece. It was as if Milstein sent two shockwaves through the piano – a remarkable gesture, the sound almost visibly emanating from the instrument.

(A very effective transition is achieved between the prayerful ending of Liszt’s Sonneto and Interference Patterns. Having consistently stood up to receive applause at the end of each of the pieces in the first half, the pianist remained seated at the end of the Liszt. This meant the audience didn’t applaud, and Milstein could begin the next piece without breaking the atmosphere just created.)

Maurice Ravel’s suite, Le tombeau de Couperin, was written one hundred years ago and remains one of the most delightful pieces of solo piano writing in the canon. Beginning with her head up, her demeanour calm as the delicate machinery of the opening Prélude flutters into life, Milstein’s performance of the six movements is a joy to behold. Ravel’s extraordinary writing for the piano is brought to life in her hands and the luminous shimmer in the last bars of the Prélude is a beautiful moment. Ravel dedicates each of the movements to friends and colleagues killed in World War I. Behind the piano, the ornate rolls of honour that flank the altar in St Ann’s serve as a reminder of its congregation’s own grief at the loss of their sons during that war. The Forlane carries itself with swagger and Milstein gives an assured reading of this courtly dance, gracefully partnering with Ravel’s melancholy harmonies and finely-wrought invention. There is something personal and intimate in Ravel’s writing. It’s there, too, in Bartók’s The Night’s Music, sometimes stellar and sometimes scrabbling, and in the Bach Toccata that opened the concert. Witnessing the artistry and technique of Nathalia Milstein’s playing tonight in the hushed church is a sublime experience.

Programme:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata in C minor BWV 911
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Piano Sonata No 3 in B flat K 281
  • Béla Bartók – Out of Doors Sz 81
  • Franz Liszt – Sonneto del Petrarca No 104 S 161
  • Gráinne Mulvey – Interference Patterns
  • Maurice Ravel – Le tombeau de Couperin
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Nathalia Milstein at St Ann’s church, Dublin / photograph by Frances Marshall

Click the photo for more of Frances Marshall’s photos from the night.

This review was done for GoldenPlec.com

RTE Concert Orchestra (NCH, 25 March 2015): Ravel’s piano concerto in G

RTÉ Concert Orchestra: Essential Classics

John Wilson conductor
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano
RTÉ Contempo Quartet

Eric Coates Dancing Nights
Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Gershwin An American in Paris

“What links all these pieces?” began conductor John Wilson, biding time as the stage was reset after the Vaughan Williams piece.

“Maurice Ravel.”

With a raconteur’s fluency, leaning casually on the podium, Wilson then gave a fascinating programme note. (I had been, shall we say, just in time for the concert, and so hadn’t availed of a printed programme.) Ravel was teacher to Vaughan Williams for an intense period that marked a transformation in his style; Gershwin adored the composer but Ravel famously recognised that the world would benefit more from a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel; Coates was one of the few composers that Ravel sought out, on account of his command of the modern instruments (e.g. vibraphone, saxophone).

Coates’s ‘Dancing Nights’ was the only piece that I hadn’t heard before, but its stylish gaiety — with such glorious melodies and harmony! — was immediately familiar and just thoroughly enjoyable. It’s the music from this period that John Wilson has championed in his career and it is one of the very best things to do in Dublin to hear him conduct the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Onto Ravel. I fell in love with this piece of music when i first encountered it at university. (The conductor of the Edinburgh University Chamber Orchestra at the time, Richard Jeffcoat, conducted it from the piano. I was on clarinet.) It may say ‘piano concerto’ on the cover, but it’s an incredible piece of work that treats the orchestra more as a chamber ensemble. The writing for each and every instrument demands extraordinary technique. Perhaps this is why it’s so exciting to hear: it’s just so interesting! Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the piano soloist, was such fun to watch — his remarkable abilities allowing the jazzy energy of the music to shine. There’s a thundering piano run in octaves in the first movement that he played rather differently than I’ve heard on recordings and that was the moment for me when I knew something really special was happening.

The second movement is one of the most perfect things ever committed to paper. It is simply one of the best things in my life; one of those things that I can’t even really recommend to you because, to me, it’s so completely mine.

(If you look very closely you can see me sitting in the balcony, directly above the harp!)

Here’s a gem of a book (click the cover below for Kindle version) by the brilliant fiction writer Jean Echenoz that I read, and loved, a few years ago. Echenoz uses the facts of Ravel’s last ten years to create a wonderful, charming work: