Jeux – poème dansé
Concerto for Piano (Left-hand) and Orchestra
Images pour orchestre [Gigues – Ibéria – Rondes de printemps]
La valse – poème choreographique
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 October, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This was nearly an unfinished concert. If it needed to happen, the timing was spot-on – that is during the interval and with drinks collected (although I won’t tell you where I was and what I was doing – guess!) – as the impersonal, monotone announcement came that we should all leave the Royal Festival Hall. It seems that a rogue fire alarm had struck (again!); and while the audience gathered in good form outside of the Hall, questions were asked as to why people were still in the restaurant. After a while, we were invited back – quite eerie returning to an empty, barely lit auditorium – but no proper explanation was offered as to the cause of the disruption.
In a programme of four French masterpieces, Charles Dutoit and the Philharmonia began, after the glimmer of a mobile ringing, with a rather edgy account of Debussy’s elusive if “pathfinding” (Boulez) Jeux, atmospheric and refined, yes, but also a little vague and sometimes with a rapidity that rather glossed over some aspects of the piece. Fleet and fluid, and at times with a broadening that was revealing but not always penetrating enough.
Both of the Ravel pieces played here are among his darkest and disturbing. To close the concert Dutoit led La valse from a frothy and voluble opening to its cataclysmic end with assurance, and there was plenty of frenzy as the work spun to its brutal conclusion, but without quite finding the essential annihilation, but more coruscating than the account of the Left-Hand Concerto had been – which so neutral as to be a non-event. The opening, with cellos and double basses ill-defined, lacked tension, and while Nikolai Lugansky had the work’s technical measure (more or less, his opening sentence was smudgy) he was so removed from the poetic and demonstration of the solo part that what emerged was merely a loosely-constructed and sluggish sequence of notes devoid of feeling. Come the march, which just arrived and seemed not to belong, the sheer lack of the macabre, subterranean menace and the fantastical was conspicuously absent. The pianist’s final cadenza failed to sum the whole. As an encore, Lugansky offered Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 (both hands!) for which he seemed more involved.
Dutoit has long brought something special to Debussy’s three orchestral Images; and did so here. His dynamic and demonstrative conducting came into their own and had the Philharmonia hanging on his every gesture. ‘Gigues’ began both distantly and languidly, beautifully evocative and enjoying a particularly characterful contribution from Jill Crowther on the oboe d’amore. A moment to look out for is the few bars where the trumpeters are required to remove mutes with very little time to do so before playing again. This was deftly accomplished. ‘Ibéria’ was both sunlit and appropriately arid, the middle section ‘Parfums de la nuit’ both nocturnal and ravishing, Debussy’s links of invention forming a chain – Dutoit always maintaining a pulse – and the closing ‘Le matin d’un jour de fête’ had an impromptu exuberance that drew premature applause before ‘Rondes de Printemps’ ebbed and flowed with beguiling certainty and essential fluidity to its multi-layered conclusion.
- Philharmonia Orchestra/Dutoit concerts in the Royal Festival Hall on 18 October and on the afternoon of the 21st
- Philharmonia Orchestra
- Philharmonia Orchestra information:
Freephone 0800 652 6717
- Southbank Centre