and the piano entered with a flourish. (Perhaps their being fellow Frenchmen with a common link to Lyon had something to do with it? Until Summer 2000 Krivine was Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon and Lyon, of course, is the city of Jean-Yves’ birth.)
Liszt is said to have sung “Das versteht Ihr alle nicht!” to the seven opening notes. Which means “This none of you understands!” – referring to the daringly unconventional (and thus unfamiliar) style in which he had fashioned his first piano concerto: in four parts, like a symphony; yet like neither a symphony nor a concerto – the theme repeats and expands in one flowing, seamless movement, without the customary moments of silence between parts. But of course–thanks to pianists like Thibaudet whose elegant artistry and brilliant mastery of his craft never fail to transport the listener, enrapt, from the thematically defining allegro through adagio and scherzo to the resounding finale, via florid cadenzas and surpriseful melodic recitatives with the flute, clarinet, cello, oboe and yes, even the lowly triangle(!)–audiences through the years eventually did understand, as those in LA did, that this is a unique piano concerto and why it has become a favorite of all time.
The deathly gripping Totentanz is the Piano Concerto‘s emotional opposite. A series of six variations on the Latin hymn Dies irae (God’s wrath), this less familiar work is suffuse with foreboding. Like the Piano Concerto, the theme is defined at the start, and the subsequent variations provide numerous occasions for a display of shivering flourishes or damning force by the dominant piano, conveying degrees of eeriness and fear and climaxing in the double glissandi (slides across the keyboard with both hands) that Thibaudet delivered with power and finesse.
The second all-orchestral half of the program was equally enjoyable. Deliberate or not, it was clever to have a 20th century composer, who was thought to be an iconoclast in his youth, remind the audience of the classical symphonic form. SERGEI PROKOKIEV’s Symphony No. 1 in D major (“Classical”), composed in the style of HAYDN (i.e., structured, employing the sonata form: exposition, development, and recapitulation), is among the composer’s most lyrical works and is perhaps as classical as PROKOKIEV gets. No wonder it has become a favorite in the modern concert repertory as the audience, taking delight in the familiar, clearly showed. CLAUDE DEBUSSY’s impressionistic La Mer concluded the program, again departing from standard form as it evoked alternating images of playful waves shimmering in the sun and of angry waves lashing against rocks on shore.
It was quite a variety show, so to speak, of distinctively discrete parts, but so well put together and so masterfully delivered. The resounding standing ovation was certainly well-deserved.
A couple of weeks later in New York City, Mr. Thibaudet made his Carnegie Hall recital debut to great critical and audience acclaim. He had played many concertos in this hallowed hall and elsewhere in the city before, but in his case, familiarity breeds only more admiration.
This time he played an all-French program – the first half devoted to DEBUSSY’s 12 Preludes (the vehicle for his recital debut with the La Jolla Chamber Music Society in 2000), and the second to MAURICE RAVEL’s Miroirs and the final piece from OLIVIER MESSIAEN’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus, heard in the hall for the very first time. To critics in the audience, this last piece was the evening’s plum prize. He received unanimous high praise for the crisp precision, the delicacy, and the elegance of his playing. Having taken everyone’s breath away, he gave back generously by way of encores from his increasingly eclectic repertoire – LISZT’s transcription of WAGNER’s Tristan und Isolde, a CHOPIN waltz and jazz selections by DUKE ELLINGTON and BILL EVANS, delighting all but those who might have preferred only the more rarefied music of the main program. Indeed for many, the evening ended all too soon. - GBC © FanFaire 2001