Cast: Helene Grimaud
As mounted and filmed in January 2009 at Paris's Cité de la Musique, this classical concert finds maestro Vladimir Jurowski leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a live set that includes interpretations of Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen" and "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme," and Maurice Ravel]s "Piano Concerto in G." Concert pianist Hélène Grimaud performs as the soloist on the Ravel piece.
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Strauss's incidental music for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme was begun before and completed after World War I. Ravel produced his raucous, jazzy concerto in the years between the wars. Strauss started work on Metamorphosen just as WWII was ending, and the premiere took place in January 1946. Together these three pieces form a most compelling and fascinating concert program. As in the movie Memento, maestro Jurowski begins at the end and slowly works his way back in time. Jurowski's Metamorphosen is almost unbearably intense and richly detailed. Rarely in my experience has anyone sorted out Strauss's intricate counterpoint or conveyed this music's shifting moods more effectively. Ostensibly inspired by the destruction of the Munich Opera House by Allied bombs, in Jurowski's hands the score becomes a powerful metaphor for the destruction of German culture by the Nazis. The playing is uncannily precise, yet filled with passion and fire. Although Jurowski is clearly in charge here, the 23 solo string players watch each other very closely, as if they were members of a gigantic string quartet. From the grief and devastation of late Strauss, we move on to the joyous exuberance of the Ravel Concerto. Grimaud and Jurowski give a smart, sassy performance, without ever slighting the score's tender, lyrical (and often downright sexy) episodes. Indeed, the gripping intensity of Grimaud's playing-not to mention the radiance of her smile-remind me very strongly of the style of legendary cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. Jurowski supports his soloist perfectly. The phrasing of soloist and conductor is utterly seamless, and the orchestra's rich colors greatly enhance and extend the ringing sound of Grimaud's piano. I'd single out the woodwinds for special praise, but truly everyone in this excellent band deserves kudos. Rounding out this exceptionally well-chosen program is Jurowski's sparkling, transparent reading of Strauss's Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Here again, Jurowski deftly untangles the score's thick harmonies and textures, allowing the music to shine far more brightly than usual. The sound is rich and full-bodied. The video is crisp and clean with an impressive array of close-ups which serve to enhance our appreciation of the music while demonstrating again and again the joy these great musicians experience while performing. This DVD has now become my "go to" choice for all three scores.