Pablo Heras-Casado recently announced that he has been waiting 12 years to work with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, an ambition finally fulfilled at this Philharmonia matinee, when the pair tackled Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G as the centrepiece of a programme of late 19th- and early 20th-century French music.
It was a wonderfully intelligent performance, which carefully probed the deeper resonances of a work that some still perceive as flippant. Aimard dazzled with his dexterity in the outer movements, but the strikingly weighty tone he adopted for the adagio exposed a streak of dark, troubling melancholy beneath the wistful surface poise. Heras-Casado, meanwhile, was alert to every emotional and stylistic shift, from jazzy sleaze to neo-classical elegance and rigour.
His understanding of the ambiguities in Ravel’s music became even more apparent in his outstanding interpretation of Ma Mère L’Oye. Fairytales depend on menace as well as magic, and here we were aware of the incipient sense of danger that lurks beneath Ravel’s depictions of Petit Poucet, lost in the forest, and the insistent if tender attentions paid to Beauty by the Beast.
The concert also marked the start of this year’s Debussy centenary with performances of Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune and La Mer. Faune was beautiful, if on the cool side. La Mer, however, was magnificent, the mystery and awe of the opening immaculately judged, the final Dialogue du Vent et de la Mer by turns thrillingly turbulent and majestic. The playing was ravishing throughout.
• On Radio 3 on 5 February, then on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.