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When pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins conductor Charles Dutoit and the CSO this week he'll be playing the kind of music he plays best--French and Romantic, in this case Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Liszt's Totentanz. Each of these is the shortest piano concerto by its composer as well as the darkest and most dramatic. The Ravel, the only one-handed concerto that's made it into the standard repertory, is as much about the orchestra as it is about the piano. It begins almost inaudibly, as some of the lowest orchestral instruments, including the contrabassoon, create a murky, fairly creepy blur of sounds out of which themes gradually emerge, reaching an explosive crescendo before the piano enters. Thibaudet and Dutoit recorded it in 1996 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (London Decca). Dutoit delivers the vast array of moods, colors, and textures that make Ravel one of the greatest orchestrators. Thibaudet has flawless technique and an equally broad palette; he sometimes lacks fire, but his many recordings of Liszt show he has the temperament to play an electrifying Totentanz, a single-movement work paraphrasing the famous Gregorian Dies Irae. Like many 19th-century composers, Liszt was fascinated with the dark side, and works such as his Mephisto Waltzes, Dante Sonata, and Totentanz contain chilling effects that rely on the virtuosic--furiously fast repeated notes, octave scales, tremolos, and glissandi. The Totentanz piano part begins loud and low, growling out broken chords before sizzling up and down the keyboard as the orchestra slowly plays the Dies Irae. The orchestra will also perform Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and Ravel's La valse. Friday 1, 1:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $24-$96. See also Saturday and Tuesday.

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