Pablo Heras-Casado and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s French programme opened with Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, a turning point in the history of music when it was premiered in 1894. Samuel Coles gave a beautiful rendering of the opening flute solo, and the Spanish conductor led the ensemble with precise cues and a supple control of tempo that recreated the piece’s somnolent character.
Ravel composed his G-major Piano concerto (completed in 1931) following a tour of the United States where he became impressed with the rhythmic and harmonic richness of jazz. Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s rendition was simply brilliant. His playing during the first movement was determined as well as sensual, his phrasing suggestive and his tempos flexible. During the tranquil Adagio his execution of Ravel’s fauvist melody was delicate, as was his use of the pedal, and the final Presto was not too fast, pianist and orchestra presenting clockwork execution. And in the children’s-stories pieces – colourful, suggestive and poignant – that are the Mother Goose Suite, the orchestra was responsive to the amicable character of the music, showcasing fresh and soothing sonorities.
The concert concluded with Debussy’s La mer – the sea in many moods, the wind, and the playfulness of waves, without any particular programme or mythological reference. Heras-Casado and the Philharmonia Orchestra gave an excellent performance of this impressionistic if symphonic masterpiece by a composer who died one-hundred years ago this year.