Philharmonia/Dutoit Collard

Piano Concerto in G
Petrushka [Original 1911 version]

Jean-Philippe Collard (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 25 October, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

A conductor at the forefront of the digital recording boom during the 1980s and early 90s, Charles Dutoit has made periodic appearances with the Philharmonia Orchestra over recent seasons – a reminder of a stylish and wide-ranging talent whose varied activities seem at present to be concentrated on Japan and Argentina. This concert found him on ‘home ground’, in a programme of French and Russian music that was well suited to the acoustic, if fitting a little awkwardly on the stage, of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Debussy’s Jeux will always be a work that impresses those ‘in the know’ while leaving the majority of concert audiences nonplussed. That it did so here was hardly the fault of the performance – which combined sensuousness with a firm, if sometimes-impulsive grasp of the music’s intuitively evolving form. Dutoit controlled its amorphous momentum with skill – ensuring that the suspenseful ambience that spans the piece, as surely as it underpins almost every gesture, was never out of the frame. Not the deepest performance, perhaps, but one that brought the piece alive to an engrossing degree.

Certainly its elusiveness is a world away from the clear-cut outlines of Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto – strange the two composers are still yoked together when they had not much in common. Not that the work’s inspired take on Mozartian classicism is at all inflexible, especially with Jean-Philippe Collard pursuing a spontaneous and occasionally reckless course through the first movement (with a near-perfect rendition of the treacherous horn solo in the reprise), and injecting the central Adagio with an astute degree of expressive rubato. He maintained an elegant though poignant dialogue with the woodwinds here, and gave the finale with élan, all the more engaging for not being dispatched at breakneck speed. Undemonstrative this concerto may be, but it is equally far from being inhibited, and Collard’s evident enjoyment added much to the attractions of this interpretation.

Even so, it was the performance of Petrushka that proved the highlight. As on the fine 1975 DG recording which helped establish his wider reputation, Dutoit opted for the original 1911 orchestration of the ballet – richer and more diaphanous in texture than the clean-lined if rather impersonal version that Stravinsky prepared 36 years on. Difficult to balance too, though Dutoit was unfazed either by this or the relative confines of the QEH – resulting in an account that projected the music’s blazing theatricality and inward fervour with equal conviction. Interestingly, he left out the side drum transitions between scenes two and three, and between scenes three and four. Omittingthe former does ensure an unbroken continuity between the ballet’s two ‘interior’ scenes, but the latter is surely essential to propel the music into the sharply contrasted arena of the fairground.

Otherwise, there was little to fault in an account that brought out the score’s psychological intensity as surely as the incisiveness of the ‘Russian Dance’ or the febrile quality of the music evoking the Shrovetide Fair – with the greater intricacy of the percussion adding appreciably to the atmosphere. A notable contribution from Shelagh Sutherland in the concertante piano role, and an unfaltering rendition of the notorious trumpet part near the close, were enhancements of a performance which reaffirmed the potency of Stravinsky’s inspiration – especially when heard in its original incarnation.

  • Concert repeated on Sunday 30 October at 3 o’clock
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Philharmonia Orchestra information:
    Freephone 0800 652 6717

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