published Monday, January 16th, 2012

Chattanooga Symphony and pianist offer fine evening of music by Maurice Ravel

By Mel Wilhoit/Correspondent

In a delightful bit of programming, the Chattanooga Symphony offered a complete concert of music by a single composer on Saturday evening at the Tivoli Theatre.

Under Music Director Kayoko Dan, the entire program featured the music of Maurice Ravel. While the young composer's musical gifts were not appreciated by a conservative musical establishment, he became popular with the public and was often compared with his friend, the impressionist Claude Debussy.

The guest soloist was pianist Inon Barnatan, who made his orchestral debut at 11, studied at London's Royal Academy and moved to New York in 2006. As a soloist and chamber player, Barnatan has earned an international reputation for his passionate playing and engaging programming.

Both those were evident in "Piano Concerto in G major," which Ravel composed at the same time as his more popular "Piano Concerto for the Left Hand." The G major work opens with a pungent and "Gershwin-like" sound, spotlighting Barnatan's clean and sensitive playing. In the haunting second movement, Barnatan magically spun out a string of musical pearls over a shimmering ensemble. The jaunty finale was full of good humor and bold playing by the animated Barnatan. A thrilling performance of a neglected jewel.

After intermission, the program featured four works by Ravel, originally composed for piano, that reflected his Basque heritage. All were later orchestrated by the composer and featured many of the orchestra's solo players.

"Rhapsody Espagnole" consists of four miniature movements but requires a large orchestra churning out a kaleidoscope of color. The challenging work was conducted in masterful fashion and produced impressive playing.

"Alborada del graccioso" was also beautifully played but might have benefited from a faster tempo, while the poignant "Pavane for a Dead Princess" portrayed a noble procession, offering an excellent contrast to the largely Spanish-tinged segment.

The huge popularity of "Bolero" amazed even the composer, who called it a work "without music." It is essentially a very long, gradual crescendo with two melodic ideas repeated in different orchestral dress. The work has enjoyed pop music status, especially in the 1980 movie "10" starring Bo Derek.

Maestra Dan exhibited wonderful control of this repetitive work, guiding it to a rousing finish that brought the audience to its feet.

The concert will be broadcast Wednesday at 7 p.m. on WSMC 90.5.

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