Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
La mer – three symphonic sketches
The Rite of Spring
Orchestre National de France
Reviewed by: Rosemary Beauchamp
Reviewed: 7 September, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
An enchanted recorder-like flute opened Debussy’s Prélude, and a fruity (finely accomplished) bassoon solo introduced The Rite of Spring. Debussy’s enchantment continued to a rapturous climax, Daniele Gatti keeping the elusive Faune on the move, if sometimes a little breathless and with some unconvincing retards – fluctuations that failed to gel the work across its whole – but delicately shaded and detail-conscious nonetheless. There were though some intonation worries from the winds, although their distinctive timbres were welcome. The strings were more uniform, however, and betrayed unanimous confidential pianissimos and warm-toned intensity with equal persuasion, yet the occasional lack of poise in the orchestra’s ensemble suggested that Faune might have been preferable after the interval as a companion to The Rite, and that the concert would have begun better in a blaze of bonhomie, Chabrier’s Joyeuse marche, say, to scintillate and settle both musicians and audience. (Okay, Joyeuse marche is in this year’s Last Night. Therefore, the Overture to Chabrier’s “Gwendoline” would have been a rare treat!)
Mystery suggesting latent power informed the dawning opening of La mer, as much symphony as seascape, yet this suggested force didn’t quite materialise, Gatti notifying this ‘sea’ as greyer than other conductors have done and with some emphasising and indulgence on the conductor’s part that seemed at-odds with Debussy’s crystal-clear line, his Boulez-like attempt at instrumental clarity (if without the Frenchman’s reason) sometimes exposing Orchestre National de France as not quite within the world’s elite. The first movement (reaching Midday) seemed a long haul to its (here) rather brassy ending. Following a ‘Play of the Waves’ second movement that was too studied for these waters to be properly energised or for musical motifs to be meaningfully exchanged, Gatti left too long a gap (at least there was no applause, or whistling, this time!) before launching the anticipated tensions of the ‘wind and sea’ finale, which again was handicapped by a slightly-under tempo and an over-concern for articulation at the expense of atmosphere and drama (even the reinstated brass fanfares sounded tame).
This Paris-centric concert continued with The Rite of Spring, premiered in France’s capital city in May 1913 to an audience-reception usually referred to as a riot (more in response to the ballet itself than Stravinsky’s score). Gatti (music director of Orchestre Nationale de France since September 2008, in succession to Kurt Masur) was on surer ground in Stravinsky than in Debussy; even so there were some precipitate moments, some dullness, some gratuitous balances favouring the ‘usual suspects’, and some headlong tempos that undermined the work’s dance genesis – here was yet another Rite designed for the concert-hall rather than for the choreography of the theatre –, yet it was undeniably exciting and, one very glaring lapse of togetherness aside, played with more vitality and interaction than had been evident in Debussy.
Not a classic account of The Rite, but it won an extended ovation, and finally an encore, the very antithesis to the Russian Pagan Scenes just listened to, for we were given the wondrously dark and Heaven-sent Prelude to Act Three of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” in a luminously-sounded and raptly eloquent execution, the highlight of the concert, enough to suggest that should Orchestre National de France and Daniele Gatti be wheeled-back for a future Prom then a whole evening of Wagner ‘bleeding chunks’ could be a Deutsch-fest winner of an evening.