Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Dutoit – Valses nobles et sentimentales & Saint-Saëns 3 – Susan Graham sings Berlioz

Valses nobles et sentimentales
Les Nuits d’été, Op.7
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.78, “avec orgue”

Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)

Stephen Disley (Royal Festival Hall organ)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 14 May, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Susan Graham. Photograph: Dario AcostaThese same Berlioz and Saint-Saëns works were played here a few weeks ago by the LPO. Such duplication invites comparison. The star of the evening was Susan Graham, whose performance of Berlioz’s song-cycle showed deep involvement with the sentiments of Théophile Gautier’s love poems in their differing emotional moods and Berlioz’s enhancement of Gautier’s prose through his imaginative and deeply expressive orchestral writing. Graham’s intense characterisation had one negative aspect, for her assumption of the role of a male lover in the third and sixth songs seemed even more out of place than usual. It would be good to hear these settings with more than one soloist, as Berlioz allowed. Graham’s insightful and beautifully sung performance was certainly on a higher plane than that of the singer some weeks previously, good though that was in many respects.

Charles Dutoit. Photograph: San Francisco SymphonyCharles Dutoit (just returned from an unexpected Boston Symphony tour to China and Japan replacing Lorin Maazel) is an experienced hand with the music of Saint-Saëns, and he conducted an exemplary performance of the Third Symphony, with enthusiastic playing from the RPO. The newly restored and magnificent Royal Festival Hall organ, with Stephen Disley at the controls, ensured a rousing climax in the final part of the work. It was all absolutely as it should have been, but in some indefinable way this reading didn’t quite take fire as it had done previously with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the London Philharmonic. Maybe the work is just too familiar to Dutoit to ensure a completely fresh response from him.

Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales is less frequently played at a concert than his other orchestral scores, and it was good to hear this delicious, charming and occasionally ironic piece. Dutoit’s conducting brought out all the music’s delicate facets very surely, but he was not always rewarded with the most refined playing.

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