Chailly and his RCO have previously brought to London, and recorded, the 1945 Firebird Suite, the longest and lightest-scored of the composers three extractions. Publicity for this concert suggested the one from 1911, using the same outsize orchestra as the original ballet. That closes with Infernal Dance, which here, as 1919s mid-point, gave too much too soon, with nothing left for cumulative frisson. Nor did the carillon-like finale burst with joy, being too clipped. If Chaillys indulgence of slower sections emphasised longeurs, there was much to relish in clarity of detail, rhythmic nimbleness, swift-reflex interplay and a heightened sense of magical atmosphere.
For the third time this year Thibaudet brought the Ravel G major to London. Such monopoly is wondered at; well, perhaps not when an ovation rewards his delivering scalic passages at top speed and making dully repetitive the soloists slow movement monologue. Thibaudets dry manner is not inappropriate for this work, but, in my experience, he plays everything like this! Over-emphasis within phrases, colour-restricted tone, a brittle touch the slow movement was rescued by winds and strings revealing Ravels childlike simplicity with understated emotion. Despite a hectic opening the solo trumpet given no favours Chailly found the first movements nightclub atmosphere and eerie stillness well enough, although his appropriately tart accompaniment became garish in the finale, which made reclusive harp and double bass syncopation the more surprising. Thibaudets mawkish way with the first movements overlapping trills may have been offset by discretion elsewhere, but, for the want of more personality and interpretative variety, his role was that of obbligato.
This concerts conspicuous success was Agon, Stravinskys proto-serial, Greek-titled ballet (Contest). Written in the fifties, Stravinskys diversity of style embraces musical biography including the Russian expression of The Rite of Spring and, as originally conceived in 1920, Symphonies of wind instruments to the black and white of the more specifically Greek ballet, Apollo, its string orchestra allusions now decorated by harp, mandolin and piano. Agon is one of Stravinskys most fascinatingly diverse scores, whether in the indivisibility of ancient and modern forms (equating to timelessness), economy of gesture (as rigorous as Weberns), or phrasal angularity (akin to Schoenbergs) softened by refrains of melting beauty; the orchestration consistently quixotic. The music acts out a drama especially in this vividly characterised, fastidiously prepared performance driven through by sheer force of creative personality; Chaillys vivid rendition revealed how Stravinsky formalises his imagination and stylistic freedom. Whether influential or not, Agons processes suggest a direct parallel with Sir Harrison Birtwistles sense of theatre notational intensity revealing inner consciousness enacted as a ritual.
- The next RFH/RCO Matinee Concert is on Sunday, 9 December, at 3.30 Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler 6
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk
- Thibaudet plays Ravels G major concerto, 12 May 2001, Royal Festival Hall
- Thibaudet plays Ravels G major concerto, 27 July 2001, Royal Albert Hall, Prom 9