Some people would happily hear the opera “Carmen” every single year. Some don’t consider Christmas complete without “The Nutcracker.” I feel the same way about Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G: Every time you want to bring it on, I want a seat where I can watch the soloist’s fingers fly.
That’s a good thing, as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra has scheduled it three times in the last eight seasons. First, Jean-Yves Thibaudet gave a glittering, extroverted performance. Last year, Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel brought a jazzy fire to it. And Friday night, Parisian Pascal Rogé turned it on its head with a deeply felt, introverted version that made it sound like Chopin and Gershwin were both looking over Ravel’s shoulder.
His romantic approach fit well into music director Christopher Warren-Green’s all-French program: Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” and “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane and two encores – one for Rogé, one for the band – by Erik Satie.
The orchestra’s previous conductors have specialized in music from their native lands, and Warren-Green does justice to fellow Brits. But he’s more chameleonic than any music director here in the last 35 years, and his French music has a lightness and sensuousness we don’t always get from British conductors; he reminded me of Thomas Beecham.
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The faun’s afternoon was hot, and he moved languidly through his forest in search of a mate. The storms at sea in “La Mer” built slowly, though powerfully. Fauré’s pavane, a little fast for dancing at first, settled into a gently rocking groove. (The woodwinds sounded especially strong all night.)
Rogé showed sparkle in the fast passages of the Ravel, but the second movement found him at his best, deep in a quiet sound world. (Ravel compared it to a slow movement of Mozart’s and, for once, it sounded that way.) Then he perked up again in the short last movement, where his springy left hand leapfrogged again and again over his vibrating right.
He was so in tune with Warren-Green that the conductor sat next to the piano, head cocked and smiling, to hear Rogé play one of Satie’s gnossiennes. Satie posed as a prankster, but Rogé found the hidden streak of poetry in this piece. Warren-Green later matched him in the orchestra’s encore, a Satie piano gymnopedie orchestrated by Debussy. The concert that began with the faun’s sultry afternoon ended in a warm, dignified miniature.