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Finally, with our expectations stretched to breaking-point, the great Bösendorfer (courtesy of Jacques Samuel Pianos) was wheeled on to await the arrival of Julian, this time as piano soloist, quick-changed from his previous conductor's black into an immaculate white dinner-jacket, as if symbolic of the fingerwork to come. How many countless times has he done the Ravel? It fits him, as does the jacket, to perfection -- so much so that at times he seemed to be standing outside his performance as a sculptor stands outside his work-in-progress, sculpting his hand movements to match the piano's interpolations, sometimes literally dusting the keys with double-hinged wrists, as if fascinated as much with the kinesthetics of the tone-production as with the elegance of the sounds produced. Even for a tone-deaf listener, the play of his dancing hands would tell 9/10s of the story. Not so our genial conductor, Guy Woolfenden -- his back, unlike that of the great Celibidache, gives nothing away but orchestral personnel afterwards told me there should have been mirrors reflecting his face for all to see -- according to them he belongs to the 'nod and wink' school. No wonder, too, that in Jacobson's riveting performance, as a one-time pupil of Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame), you could sometimes detect the hand of Gershwin usurping that of Ravel and reminding us that Gershwin's desire to study with Ravel was reciprocated by Ravel's cannily matching him at his own game. The toccata-like third movement -- the least-interesting musically -- tickled us out of our seats with a feline Julian playing at 'kitten on the keys' and thereby unleashing an ovation to shake good St James's to its foundations.
Julian Jacobson playing Ravel. Photo © 2007 Mike Eccleshall
Copyright © 21 February 2007
Malcolm Troup, London UK