La péri – Fanfare and poème dansée
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Lars Vogt (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 8 April, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Despite the Philharmonia Orchestra’s excellent playing, this account of Scheherazade was uncommunicative and lacking in evocation. Yes it had sweep, tenderness and dynamism; yet, although Stéphane Denève could not be accused of micro-managing the score, one was too aware of his engineering of the music and an orchestra striving to meet his requirements, but the circle was not closed enough for the performance to be as spontaneous and as suggestive as this piece needs to be. Although there was some quiet and sensitive playing, even this seemed manufactured and was in any case undone by fortissimos that were over-lit, blatant and noisy (trombones stentorian) during which woodwinds were covered and the Royal Festival Hall was made to sound shrill and shallow. Some of the Philharmonia’s principals can certainly take bouquets – not least Hugh Webb (harp), Robin O’Neill (bassoon), Estefania Beceiro (horn) and Christopher Cowie (oboe), and especially Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay whose violin solos were rapturous, capricious and beautifully sounded.
Mozart’s A major Piano Concerto was similarly well-crafted but failed to ignite involvement. The orchestral exposition started in attractive leisurely fashion but then got faster before Lars Vogt entered with a tempo closer to Denève’s opening gambit, to unsettling effect. Vogt’s crisp and elegant playing was admirable but some of his contribution was too self-consciously reflective and which would drag the slow movement beyond its artless self to something contrived. The tempo for the finale was refreshingly moderate, but the music-making lacked sparkle.
If the Rimsky and Mozart pieces had been too objectively viewed, more open-heart-surgery than from-the-heart, Denève’s organisational skills came into their own in Paul Dukas’s ballet La péri, the work of one of the most perfectionist and self-critical of composers (he left us a handful of works, including The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and it is believed that he destroyed a Second Symphony). If the stirring Fanfare was not quite as pristine as necessary (some of Dukas’s very precise note-values and decoration not clarified enough) and needed to be broader in pace, the ballet itself had a clarity, conviction and appreciation that revealed it afresh as a score of considerable merit, the dynamic range perfectly judged, the sway of the music and its bacchanalian outbursts made seamless. Denève’s ear for Dukas’s fascinating tapestry of sound, and because of the Philharmonia’s exacting response, created something compelling.