The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Sunday, July 24.
Jazz rhythms and inflections often sound out of place in “classical” music, like words of a foreign language thrown into conversation with great ostentation but imperfect understanding. Yet somehow, unlikely though it might seem, Maurice Ravel, a reserved, cerebral Frenchman, managed to draw beautifully on American jazz. His piano concertos, in particular, gracefully weave jazz idioms into an otherwise neoclassic sensibility. Entwining with breezy ease, the bluesy bent pitches and syncopated rhythms don’t feel gimmicky; they’re part of the texture, part of Ravel’s personal vocabulary, which is all the richer for it.
The incongruity of that has always delighted me, but in a way, perhaps it’s not surprising. Ravel had the ability to transcend gimmicks, taking a composition from a contrived starting point to a higher plane through impeccable craftsmanship and sheer beauty. Nothing he wrote sounds tossed off, so nothing sounds cheap, and—as performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet—everything is enormously compelling.