No doubt Charles Dutoit was originally in the driving seat for this Prom, but step forward Alain Altinoglu who led the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a vividly theatrical performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, complete, preferable this way so as to appreciate the composer’s overall structural mastery as well as savouring the opulence and the bold colours.
Altinoglu had the measure of the piece. It is a glittering and brilliant score that at its heart is a pastoral romance. Some conductors turn it into a Technicolor spectacular but Altinoglu was detailed and suitably balletic with a feeling for characterisation, including grotesquery and youthful ardour. The opening beguiled with subtle gradations of timbre and gracefully moulded lines, and there were lovely shadings and rhythmically supple phrasing. In the glorious ‘Daybreak’ (which opens Suite 2) he drew refined and, as appropriate, full-blooded playing from the RPO. The woodwinds were eloquent throughout with Emer McDonough’s flute wistful and touching, and the combined choirs brought an otherworldly element of Ravel’s score as well as youthful ardour and virile power, although a ringing mobile did them (and us) no favours at one point. The final ‘Bacchanal’ exuded electrifying energy and excitement.
Earlier, Francesco Piemontesi had played Mozart’s final Piano Concerto, its intimacy dwarfed by the size of the Royal Albert Hall, Radio 3 listeners probably getting a better deal, and clapping at the end of the first movement didn’t aid concentration. However, Piemontesi creating pearly tones with flowing (added and liberal) decoration, his fingers remarkably neat, and he caught the work’s moods perfectly. Altinoglu and the RPO accompanied attentively although sometimes the strings were thin. As an encore Piemontesi played the first of Brahms’s Opus 117 Intermezzos with melting loveliness.
The evening began with Faure’s Pavane in its choral version, intimate and fervent, Altinoglu keeping the music moving so that its ebb and flow was natural.