Last October One Found Sound, which takes a democratic and collaborative approach to the organization of a chamber orchestra (including the absence of a conductor authority figure), gave its debut at Salle Pianos. Last night the musicians returned to Salle Pianos to give the third and final concert of the group’s inaugural season. While the prevailing ideology is one that places the group above the individual, last night’s program made its first venture into the performance of a concerto with a featured soloist.
That soloist was Japanese pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi, appearing as guest artist in the United States premiere performance of a piano concerto composed by Jean Françaix in 1936. Françaix dedicated the score to his composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. However, given Boulanger’s reputation for seriousness, one has to wonder how she responded to this gesture.
Françaix’ score is a delightful romp, filled with eccentric rhythms, incessant repetitions, and a sassiness that indicates a loving awareness of American jazz and a determination to refashion that love into a thoroughly French rhetoric. He tended to work on relatively short durational scales, eschewing the nineteenth-century preference for extended prolongation in favor of the distillation of his ideas down to the musical version of the mot juste, The concerto is actually one of his longer pieces, but its reception by the intellectual tastemakers of its day seems to have impeded any efforts to move it across the Atlantic Ocean.
The only question arising from last night’s performance by Nakagoshi and One Found Sound was thus why we had to wait for so long. Nakagoshi is no stranger to wit, as is particularly evident from some of his ZOFO Duet performances with his four-hand partner Eva-Maria Zimmermann. His delivery is often deadpan, but it never impeded his ability to capture Françaix’ particular breed of wild abandon. Throughout the concerto’s four movements, the One Found Sound musicians were always along side of him on a journey that felt more like a roller-coaster ride. The result was a thoroughly delightful introduction to a high-spirited composition that should have settled a firmer place in standard repertoire years ago.
The concerto was preceded by Maurice Ravel’s orchestral version of his suite Le Tombeau de Couperin. This was an orchestral rethinking of four movements from a six-movement piano suite, all of which were based on traditional forms from the seventeenth century. The music is relatively familiar to most attendees of orchestra concerts, but the transparency of last night’s performance on chamber orchestra scale revealed just how attentive to sonority Ravel was in that rethinking process. This is particularly true of subtle shifts of wind usage as the themes unfold through different instrumental combinations, along with the use of the harp to underscore particular moments of climax.
None of the elements of Ravel’s sophisticated approach to control were undermined through last night’s “democratic” performance of this composition. Rather, there was a stronger sense that each individual always had a clear sense of the “sonority of the whole” and of his/her specific contribution to the shaping of that sonority. The result was a vibrancy that does not always emerge when this music is played in larger-scale concert settings (let alone through the limitations of technology for both recording and listening). While the resources to perform this piece clearly go beyond the usual boundaries of chamber music, One Found Sound captured that “chamber music spirit” of the score, thus reinforcing its attachment to its seventeenth-century roots in a manner seldom encountered in other performances of the work.
Ravel’s reflection on music of the past was complemented by the parallel reflections of Claude Debussy. Nakagoshi provided an “overture” for the evening through a solo performance of Suite Bergamasque. While this suite has always been best known for its “Clair de Lune” movement, the other three movements are all based on the same sorts of formal structures that had inspired Ravel. Debussy tended to be a bit more adventurous, coming up with a Menuet that practically defies the listener to recognize its underlying three-beat metric structure. However, Nakagoshi gave the entire suite a thoroughly accommodating interpretation, allowing listeners to settle in for the more diverse sonorities that would then emerge through the Ravel performance and the comic delights of Françaix’ concerto.