Brussels Philharmonic at The Anvil – Stéphane Denève conducts Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony & Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and music by Guillaume Connesson

Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Guillaume Connesson
E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare
Pini di Roma

Brussels Philharmonic
Stéphane Denève

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 30 September, 2016
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England

Stéphane DenèvePhotograph: Drew FarrellUnder Stéphane Denève the Brussels Philharmonic launched the Anvil’s 2016-17 concert series in grand style. Appointed music director last year, Denève has held positions with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and is a conductor with flair and charisma. His energising presence and the polished sound he drew from his players was a winning formula, especially welcome in a venue that has had mixed performances from several European orchestras in recent years.

Beethoven’s formal rigour may have little in common with Respighi’s lavish orchestrations, but this programme contrived to illuminate cinematic links and embrace further connections with the vibrant music of Frenchman Guillaume Connesson. From the start of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony it was clear this would be a nimble account. Denève coaxed a unanimous string tone and with an economy of gesture unerringly brought together the first movement’s symphonic logic with vivid detail. There could have been greater intimacy in the ‘Scene by the Brook’, but the blend and discipline was matchless, and nightingale, quail and cuckoo were all charming. Woodwind and horn contributions in the Scherzo were suitably playful, and with the arrival of brass, piccolo and timpani we were treated to an exhilarating if somewhat well-behaved ‘Storm’. For all the velvet smoothness of this account, the dramatic elements were a little understated and trombones could have been more prominent. Brass generally could have made more impact in the final ‘Hymn of Thanksgiving’, not least to underline its richer harmonic scoring.

The two pieces from Connesson (born 1970) were positioned either side of the interval. Flammenschrift (Written in Flame, 2012) was written as a psychological portrait of Beethoven. The music’s hot-headed and abrasive energy conveys Beethoven on speed and is overly long even at nine minutes. By contrast, E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare (2015) is a lavish and romantic score celebrating the beauty of the Italian landscape and peppered with numerous solo opportunities, of which Joris Van den Hauwe was an impressively eloquent oboist.

There is no mistaking Respighi’s imagination and superb scoring in his Roman trilogy (1915-28). Pines of Rome (1924) opens with children at play in ‘The Pine-Trees of the Villa Borghese’. It could have been even more riotous, but the sense of unease and mystery (bi-tonal strings) was beautifully conveyed in ‘Pines near a catacomb’. Kristaps Bergs’s cello brought melting warmth to the nocturnal rapture of ‘The Pines of the Janiculum Hill’ as did a beguiling clarinet solo that segued into the chirrups of a nightingale relayed via a gramophone (operated by one of the percussionists and presumably containing a CD-player for Respighi’s chosen recording of the bird, now digitised) complete with old-fashioned horn and placed among the violins. To close, ‘The Pines of the Via Appia’ was thrilling, the additional trumpets and trombones placed high up. There was no doubting the success of this opening concert.

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