Perhaps the only concern in Simon Rattle’s increasingly intensive schedule with the LSO is that their ‘honeymoon’ will be over well before he becomes Music Director in September next year. Certainly the rapport here was undoubted, not least in an account of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin (1917) which proceeded from a fluid ‘Prélude’, via a discreetly acerbic ‘Forlane’ and winsome ‘Menuet’ (the ambivalence at its centre eloquently brought out) to a sprightly ‘Rigaudon’ marred only by the rather heavy-handed final gesture.
London – the Barbican Hall in particular – will be hearing a lot of Henri Dutilleux’s music in this his centenary year, his dozen major works the product of a composer writing slowly and fastidiously throughout the six decades of his maturity. The six-year gestation of L’arbre des songes (Tree of Dreams, 1985) is a case in point: a violin concerto for Isaac Stern more concrete in formal and expressive evolution than his earlier cello counterpart, its virtuosity is channelled into a formal seamless entity – the classical cast of whose four movements is offset by insinuating melodic writing such as Leonidas Kavakos audibly relished in his animated yet, where necessary, raptly inward reading. Rattle teased out intricate textures and ravishing sonorities – not least those brief and speculative interludes which readily enhance the overall proportions of this engrossing piece.
Rattle has periodically championed French rarities (Charles Koechlin’s Les Bandar-Log three decades ago), and began the LSO’s second half with Four Hindu Poems (1913) that remains the only piece by which Maurice Delage (1879-1961) is ‘widely’ known. Audibly in the lineage of Ravel’s and Stravinsky’s song-cycles from this period, the music’s immersion in Indian idioms as absorbed in situ is made manifest in settings of the fifth-century Sanskrit author Bhartrihari – whether in the ethereal timbres of ‘Madras’, startling microtones of ‘Lahore’, enfolding ecstasy of ‘Bénarès’ or the exquisite longing of ‘Jeypur’. Julia Bullock (originally Susan Gritton) was ideally attuned to the sensual inflections of the vocal line and Rattle ensured a thoughtful response from the dozen-strong LSO, sounding not all unfocussed in this acoustic.
Quite a contrast with Dutilleux’s Métaboles (1964), written for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, less a concerto for orchestra than a diverse sequence of etudes given symphonic coherence by stealthy motivic evolution touched off by the indelible opening chord and with its cumulative energy to the fore in Rattle’s charged account. Thus the furtive gestures of ‘Incantoire’ yielded to the restive opulence of ‘Linéaire’, then the quirky study in serial idioms of ‘Obsessionel’; the hieratic chorale of ‘Torpide’ duly making way for the cumulative energy of ‘Flamboyant’ with its exhilarating final QED.
Whether or not Ravel is a direct precursor to Dutilleux in aesthetic, such a connection is not hard to discern with Daphnis et Chloé (1912), the Second Suite from which ballet rounded off proceedings. After a suitably rapturous ‘Lever du jour’, the ‘Pantomine’ between the lovers was distinguished by flute-playing (from Adam Walker) as chaste though suggestive as this music requires, before the ‘Danse générale’ built from its slightly too stolid opening to an appropriately heady culmination and a fine demonstration of the LSO/Rattle partnership.