Germany versus France
But what will Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris be like together? The curtain-raiser is Messiaen's earliest orchestral work, a piece called Les offrendes oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings) that sounds as if it came from a sex-starved French Catholic with only an orchestra to assuage his longings. The core of the program is three fabulous works by Ravel: the sensual second suite from his ballet Daphnis et Chloé, La Valse (the decline and fall of the Austrian Empire in 3/4 time), and his unbearably exquisite Piano Concerto. Will Eschenbach make the French toe the line and play accurately? Will the French twist Eschenbach around their fingers and make him surrender to their seductive tone? Or will they join together as tough-guy husband and gorgeous but willful wife to make precisely beautiful music together?
The real test will be Ravel's sublime Piano Concerto. The outer movements are gaspingly gorgeous, but they're just the aperitif and the dessert. The Adagio assai, the main course of the work, is Truth Made Beauty and Beauty Made Truth. If Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris, with hot-shot pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, can make that realité une verité with precision and beauty, I'll be in metaphysical ecstasy.
[Originally published in January, 2002.]