Overture, Le corsaire, Op.21
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Symphony No.3 in G minor, Op.42
Daphnis et Chloë – Suite No.2
Nelson Freire (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 12 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
If we count Chopin as being French – his father was a Frenchman who went to Poland – then this Prom conducted Lionel Bringuier was an all-French affair. Topped and tailed by two of the most popular works in the repertoire, the concert’s major interest lay in the opportunity to hear Nelson Freire, one of the world’s great but relatively unsung artists. This was coupled with a rare outing for Roussel’s Third Symphony, a Koussevitzky commission to celebrate the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 50th-anniversary in 1930 and the work with which Roussel finally burst onto the international scene.
The interior world of Chopin’s F minor Concerto occupies a special place in the affections. In the wrong hands the outer movement’s endless arabesques can seem interminable although about the moonlit landscape of the slow movement there can be little dissent. Freire was the perfect soloist, infusing the outer movements with a gentle understated melancholy which did not preclude moments of volatility whilst the slow movement went off in a single breath, time suspended. There is a special singing quality to Freire’s piano sound; like Cortot, he can almost convince one that the piano is not a percussion instrument, something equally apparent in the brief encore, Sgambati’s transcription of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits. The BBC Symphony Orchestra accompanied with tact and discretion.
Albert Roussel’s breezy Third Symphony was an unalloyed delight. Part of the fascination of this music is its sheer unpredictability – neo-classicism with a beating heart – the pounding opening rapidly subsiding into lyricism, the threnody of its deeply felt extended slow movement immediately succeeded by the briefest and most epigrammatic of scherzos. Even the finale swerves off in the most unexpected direction with an extended, contemplative violin solo before being brought to an abrupt yet decisive conclusion. Bringuier found just the right crisp touch, deft and precise, refusing to overplay moments such as the opening where it would be easy to overdo the Stravinsky-like momentum, yet truly emotional at the slow movement’s climaxes and finding a laconic wit in the scherzo. There were some outstanding solos, notably from oboist David Powell at the first movement’s close, and from Stephen Bryant in the violin’s long soliloquy in the finale.
Despite his youth Bringuier clearly enjoys the closest rapport with the BBCSO and this was on display in the Second Suite from Daphnis et Chloë. Its opening sunrise was judged with uncanny precision. Normally it comes over as a generalised haze; here, with extreme restraint – flutes suspended for just a fraction of a second in the first bar, harps plangent but almost ear-ticklingly distant – it evoked all the wondrous freshness of a Mediterranean dawn. Later on there was a mesmerizing flute solo.
The evening had opened with that rarest of creatures, the most poised and sensitive performance of Berlioz’s Le corsaire. There was verve aplenty but instead of the usual all-purpose swashbuckling theatrics, it was the quieter moments which resonate longest in the mind and the subtlety with which the final build-up was achieved.