Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Mother Goose & Scheherazade – Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays James MacMillan’s The Mysteries of Light [live webcast]

Ma Mère l’oye – Suite
James MacMillan
Piano Concerto No.3 (The Mysteries of Light)
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 March, 2014
Venue: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan

Jean-Yves ThibaudetIt was fantasy and fairy-tales live from Detroit to the World (arriving at midnight in London). Leonard Slatkin opened with Mother Goose. Although the first secrecy was getting sound and picture, for the line to me went dead just before the Ravel started (and, ironically, as the sponsors of the webcast were being thanked!) and only returned during the second movement. (A bit of local-to-me difficulty, I think.) Nevertheless, from what was heard, this was an evocative and sensitive outing, with some very expressive solo contributions. The final movement, ‘Le jardin féerique’, as ever had one spellbound and moved in its exquisitely crafted poignancy and ineffable beauty. A shame though not to have the complete score, for the introductory movement and the interludes are also of great quality and add immeasurably to the work’s stature. No doubt Slatkin will do it this way as part of his ultra-complete Ravel survey for Naxos in Lyon.

There followed James MacMillan’s most-recent Piano Concerto, ‘The Mysteries of Light’ (2011), which “attempts to revive the ancient practice of writing music based on the structure of the Rosary.” This 25-minute work, “based on a set of meditations introduced to the Rosary in 2002 by John Paul II – the Luminous Mysteries”, divides as follows:

  • Baptisma Iesu Christi
  • Miraculum in Cana
  • Proclamatio Regni Dei
  • Transfiguratio Domini Nostri
  • Institutio Eucharistiae
    So, cue miracles, proclamations and transfigurations. The first section of this playing-continuously concerto includes much glitter and pealing from the piano for the Birth of Jesus Christ. There is also significant percussion colour, and an inclusive approach to popular idioms. Across the whole are solemn summonses, the use of plainsong, some beatific meditation and ear-catching refrains. The music can be garish as part of a stylistic melting pot, certainly vivid and filmic but rarely suggesting itself as anything much beyond these ingredients. Maybe it’s the piano itself that offers kinship with the music of Messiaen, and not just Turangalîla. This is music with an undemanding appeal (including reminders of MacMillan’s percussion concerto, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel), and sacred moments that had one thinking of Pärt and Gubaidulina, and with a loud ending that seemed curiously inconsequential. So, doubts from your reviewer, but none about the scintillating performance given by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the Detroiters and Leonard Slatkin.

    Leonard Slatkin. Photograph: © Matthew H. StarlingAs an encore, Thibaudet offered a Chopin Nocturne, unfortunately interrupted again by a lack of signal (for me), but it was a wonderfully flowing and candid approach from the pianist, as if extemporised, with the left-hand rhythms more marked than usual, offering something down to earth rather than rarefied, and rather special.

    After the interval, there was a superb Scheherazade, full of colour, exuberance and tenderness. DSO Concertmaster Yoonshin Song was perfectly cast in the role of the story-telling Princess, and she played with seductive lyricism. Her fellow principals were no-less charismatic. This is a score easy to take for granted, or even to dismiss, yet it has wonderful invention and is superbly orchestrated (like Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov was a master in this respect), and when a conductor takes the score on trust and without tinkering with it and exaggerating it – move over, Stokowski and Gergiev! – then a treat is in store, as here, in a keenly observed account played with character and commitment.

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