Christoph Eschenbach & Paris Orchestra Soloists

Schumann
Three Romances for oboe and piano, Op.94
Stravinsky
Three Pieces for solo clarinet
Poulenc
Sonata for clarinet and bassoon
Mozart
Quintet in E flat for piano and winds, K452

Christoph Eschenbach (piano), Alexandre Gattet (oboe), Philippe Berrod (clarinet), Michel Garcin-Marrou (horn) & Giorgio Mandolesi (bassoon)


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 17 July, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

The first Proms Chamber Music of the season, this lunchtime programme following-on from the Paris Orchestra’s “Siegfried” the previous evening, which Christoph Eschenbach conducted.

This enterprising recital was despatched, for the most part, with a certain Gallic insouciance and élan. It started promisingly with the most sensitive of performances of Schumann’s seldom-played Three Romances. Eschenbach is the most instinctive of Schumann players and, with Alexandre Gattet, there was a wonderfully supple ebb and flow, a constant sense of fluidité, and the light and shade as it were constantly dappled. Two of the three movements are marked ‘Nicht schnell’ and this was definitely leisurely playing. The finale’s postlude drew a moment of the utmost poetry from both artists.

Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for solo clarinet, the first two for the A clarinet and the final one for a B flat clarinet, date from 1918. The first is meditative, even slightly melancholy, recalling the songs of the Volga boatmen, the second improvisatory and the third an exuberant mix of jazz and tango. They received the most charismatic performance from Philippe Berrod who delivered his lines with real personality and flair, the very ending a wonderful throwaway moment.

Poulenc’s Sonata for the unusual combination of clarinet and bassoon was written in 1922, four years after the Stravinsky. Superficially a jeu d’esprit full of dry wit, it is actually shot through with a certain melancholy which is at its most potent in the bittersweet slow movement (how could such music written in the backwash of the Great War smile other than through gritted teeth?). With the exuberant Italian Giorgio Mandolesi on bassoon and Frenchman Philippe Berrod, this resembled a rather more good-natured re-run of the World Cup Final, the two players bickering constantly like an old married couple. Delicious!

With Eschenbach at the piano and these wonderfully characterful soloists one had hoped for great things in the Mozart Quintet, one of his most sublime creations, a work perfectly balanced in every respect. In the event nothing quite gelled. Michel Garcin-Marrou, long-term first horn of Orchestre de Paris, was less than secure with too many cracked notes for comfort; and, generally, ensemble was distinctly rough and ready and – especially with such characterfully distinctive players – the lack of precision stood out in sharp relief. There were incidental pleasures – a quite magical change of direction and colouring from Eschenbach in the first movement development – but all too often I found myself thinking of his comment before the performance: “Playing Mozart is so hard”, and asking, ‘But should it sound this hard?’



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