By Melinda Bargreen
Special to Classical KING FM
The chance to hear the esteemed pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet play not one, but two Ravel concerti in the same program would be enough to draw floods of music lovers to Benaroya Hall. The all-Ravel program also offered a generous assortment of pieces usually found on light-classics concerts, including the “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” “Rapsodie espagnole,” and the ever-popular “Boléro,” so it was no surprise to find a good-sized audience for the first subscription concert of the 2013-14 season on Sept. 19.
Like conductor Ludovic Morlot, Thibaudet hails from Lyon (France); perhaps their hometown rapport accounts for some of the felicities of the Seattle performance on September 19. After a brief curtain raiser, Ravel’s orchestration of his piano piece “Alborada del gracioso,” Thibaudet emerged from the wings to play the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major – a work originally composed for the Viennese-born pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in combat during World War I. Ingenious, challenging, and frequently gorgeous, this concerto demands both considerable virtuosity and concentration from the soloist; Thibaudet rose to the occasion with exquisite phrasing and spectacular fingerwork.
Later in the program, the more frequently played Piano Concerto in G Major – all jazzy insouciance and easy, unforced elegance. The middle movement emerged as a private reverie, limpid and smooth and subtle – greatly enhanced by excellent solo work from Stefan Farkas, English horn, who had a first-rate night. So did principal horn Jeff Fair (in the “Pavane”), bass clarinetist Larey McDaniel, bassoonist Seth Krimsky, and contrabassoonist Mike Gamburg, to name but a few. Guest bassoonist David Sogg also made a very fine impression, as did guest clarinetist Frank Kowalsky and acting principal flutist Christie Reside.
Despite the popularity of the banal “Boléro,” it would have made more sense to place that work elsewhere (perhaps at the conclusion of the first half?) and end the concert with the brilliant Ravel G Major. Thibaudet, the evening’s hero, deserved the reward of an ovation that didn’t have to make way for the next work on the program. His was well and truly a “tough act to follow.”