La mer – three symphonic sketches
Concerto in D for Piano (Left-hand)
Daphnis et Chloé
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 24 September, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Valery Gergiev visits La mer quite often, not least with the LSO, and there was a ‘been there, done it’ feel to this performance that was a bit too impromptu at times and with some awkward changes of gear. The opening was expectant enough, but tension sagged at various points, possibly through moments of disengagement, and ensemble wasn’t always exact enough (the unanimity of the strings in the second movement, for example), yet there were some exciting surges and the finale had a real sense of elemental danger (Gergiev opting to not play the ad lib fanfares, which in the context of the performance would have added a salutary warning).
There were similar inconsistencies in Daphnis – which like La mer suffered from being overloud and harsh-sounding at times (detail coagulating) – with passages that compelled and those that lacked focus; yet there was a feel of narrative, the score’s mystery sensitively touched-in and Gergiev directing with impulse and a sense of choreography. Surprisingly for such an august group, the London Symphony Chorus’s pitch was a bit suspect in a cappella passages, but there was no lack of abandon in the final dance, taken at breakneck speed – fine for an orgy if less satisfying for clarity and appreciating Ravel’s watchmaker’s notation. Most memorable was the ‘Daybreak’ sequence, gloriously spacious, raptly played, and genuinely emotional, with Gareth Davies then seducing us with a wonderful flute solo.
Following his outstanding series of Debussy’s piano music for Chandos, one might have expected a more penetrating and varied account of Ravel’s Left-Hand Concerto from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, but the spot-lit double basses at the opening sacrificed all-important subterranean obscurity, such bright lights then holding good (unfortunately) for the performance as a whole, Bavouzet’s first entry being forceful and confident if rather smudgy. Maybe the pianist got sucked into Gergiev’s remorseless conducting, but there was little light, shade or fluctuation of pace (no reminiscing in the Mother Goose-like passages); outbursts flared but the darkness of the piece was subjugated, nor was the music’s deep sadness ever suggested, not least in the cadenza which went for very little.