Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble

Shylock – Suite [excerpts]
Les nuits d’été
L’Arlésienne – Incidental music [excerpts]

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)

Orchestra and Choir of Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble
Marc Minkowski

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 29 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Prom was billed as “continuing the Shakespeare theme”, but there was only a very tenuous connection to the author, courtesy of excerpts from the suite that Fauré compiled from his incidental music for Edmond Haraucourt’s play “Shylock”, based on Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”. Perhaps a more illustrative link would have been ‘Love in all its guises and with its pitfalls’, for all three works had that theme.

An ‘Entr’acte’ was the first music heard, played in a lively, strident manner, with perhaps a slight ‘wobble’ from the brass, but otherwise well integrated with the echoing trumpet fanfares highlighting the failure of the princes of Morocco and Aragon to choose the right casket. A wonderfully lyrical passage followed welcoming the arrival of Bassanio and his correct choice of container. The beautiful ‘Nocturne’ (for strings) was superbly played: a real treat and a love story in itself. The mood then changed to the dramatic ‘Epithalame’, an interlude leading into the scene of Portia’s judgement in the “pound of flesh” litigation – suitably stirring and preparing for the potential horror to come: life or death? Given the good news that Antonio was saved, the final music was fresh and sparkling: a fitting end to a love-story.

For Berlioz’s orchestral song-cycle (the first such) Les Musiciens was joined by Anne Sofie von Otter. Together they produced a memorable performance. Minkowski’s sympathetic conducting, impressive playing and Otter’s singing – without histrionics and exaggerated gestures and with faultless French – gave the settings of Théophile Gautier’s poems warmth and poignancy: words and music combining to produce haunting ballads, joy and sadness wrapped as one.

Bizet’s incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’s play – a story about the infatuation of a young and wealthy farm worker from the Camargue for a girl from Arles (the L’Arlésienne of the title) is very different to the movements from the familiar orchestral suites. 20 of the original 27 movements were superbly played and sung. Needless to say love does not run smoothly. The music charts the course of the play through its twists and turns until Frédéri realises that only Vivette, a local girl, can save him from his hopeless infatuation for the girl from Arles: a ‘Farandole’ celebrates his betrothal to Vivette.

Marc Minkowski formed Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble in 1982 and has been developing impressively beyond its primary Baroque and Classical remit; to prove the point a couple of ‘Entr’actes’ from Bizet’s “Carmen” were added as encores.

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