Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major certainly doesn't want for attention. There are dozens of recordings, and the work has been presented in concert so often, I've lost count of how many of them I've seen. Such over-exposure might invite boredom, but every once in a while a performance comes along that's so special, it really stands out. Such was the reaction I had to this performance, which was the opening number in an all-Ravel concert by Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the kind of playing that left one exclaiming, "Yes, that's the way it should sound!"

Bertrand Chamayou and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Nadja Sjöström

Bertrand Chamayou performs this concerto often, so it's no surprise that he has the music firmly under his fingers. But there was a welcome freshness to his interpretation, too. Musical ideas flowed naturally, with no discursive detours along the way. The outer movements were performed with panache, with appropriately jazzy contributions from the brass including impressive trumpet solo work in the first movement.

Chamayou and Oramo turned in a spellbinding rendition of the Adagio assai movement. The opening piano solo was finely nuanced, beautifully conveying the dynamic shifts with woodwinds providing sensitively understated accompaniment. One small drawback was the English horn solo which was played with a sweet tone, but the sound was a little lost in the orchestral fabric. The final Presto movement was positively riotous, with the pianist tossing the musical passages back and forth with the instrumentalists. In the end, I was left wondering if I'd ever heard this concerto played better. Perhaps I have... but I can't remember when.

Sakari Oramo conducts the RSPO
© Nadja Sjöström

For the remainder of his program, Oramo chose three orchestral works, beginning with the Pavane pour une infante défunte. Shrewdly, by adopting a "walking tempo" he avoided the somnolence that can sometime befall other performances. Notably, with the return of the main melody at the end of the piece there was real pathos in the playing.

The Menuet antique was a similarly winsome interpretation, lilting in a way that avoided the somewhat foursquare character of the music. Low-register winds were finely articulated; for once, every note could be made out in Ravel's orchestration. The middle section of the piece was finely shaped, too, making this performance of the Menuet particularly memorable.

Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Nadja Sjöström

To close out, Oramo conducted the entire six-movement Le Tombeau de Couperin, including the two numbers from the original piano suite (the Fugue and Toccata) that weren't part of Ravel's own orchestration. Unlike the more famous version by Zoltán Kocsis, tonight's orchestrations (Kenneth Hesketh) adopt the same instrumentation as the rest of the suite. Sounding more authentically Ravelian, they come off better than Kocsis' big-orchestra conceptions. Throughout the Tombeau, Oramo stressed the underlying rhythmic pulse and dancelike character of the music. Tempos tended toward the swift side in the manner of Paul Paray and Charles Munch, with beguiling results. A chamber music-like Prélude was followed by a Forlane that pranced in sprightly fashion. A robust Rigaudon featured noteworthy oboe and flute passages in the middle section, while the Menuet was imbued with unusual dynamics that gave the movement a kind of mystery we don't often associate with it, one of those special, transcendent moments in a concert that delivered more than its share of them.

I've heard that Oramo has plans to record Ravel's complete orchestral works for the BIS label. On the basis of tonight's concert, such a project promises to be an artistic success.


This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream

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