Pavane pour une infante défunte
Jeu de cartes
Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra
Jeux – poème dansé
Emanuel Abbühl (oboe)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 13 December, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Four dance-related pieces (three being ballet scores, the Pavane the exception) and an oboe concerto seemed like a thrown-together programme.
The performances were equally mixed, the Ravel items the least inspired, the Pavane beginning with a gruff chord and a little tentative at times if well paced and with a magical fade with which to end. Boléro was pretty wretched for its first fifty per cent; the side drum rhythm took a while to properly establish itself and was inconsistent after that, and some of the wind and brass solos were nervous-sounding and prone to slips. Valery Gergiev seemed content to let the musicians sort things out, but it took a while, and if the crescendo was quite well charted, the fairly flowing tempo was also curiously pedestrian in effect, the closing bars crudely delivered.
Jeu de cartes rather plodded to begin with in what was a hard-working performance to keep ensemble intact and which needed to appear less artless than it was; some heavy, dulling attack didn’t help matters but there was at least some exhilaration in the last third of the piece if not enough wit when the Overture to “The Barber of Seville” is quoted from.
Jeux was nearly a complete success, measured, lucid and languorous, Gergiev uncovering some hitherto unsuspected links to Stravinsky’s Petrushka; certainly he lingered with affection, the LSO shimmered, and the music touched the heart and ravished the senses; but it was blighted by the overloud and over-bright metal percussion and trumpets – four of the latter when Debussy asks for three; share the load by all means, but when all four played-out together (why?) it was to the detriment of the score (the aural equivalent of sunglasses was needed) and the pregnant atmosphere established.
Richard Strauss’s nostalgic, bittersweet, neo-classical Oboe Concerto was given a wonderful outing by the Swiss-born Emanuel Abbühl (a pupil of Heinz Holliger), co-principal oboist of the LSO, who since his appointment in October 2006 has been a distinguished presence in the orchestra’s ranks. In one of Strauss’s swansongs, Abbühl was superb, bringing flawless technique, poise, potent expression and beguiling tone to his task, and was expertly accompanied; there was ebullience and crispness, too, in a performance that confirmed Abbühl as a master of his instrument and a musician par excellence.