Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Tout un monde lointain …
Daphnis et Chloé
Lynn Harrell (cello)
Edinburgh Festival Chorus
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 3 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
It says much for the consistently excellent performances that graced this Prom by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Donald Runnicles that the music survived the startling amount of coughing and various noises-off that were a constant intrusion. Thus the solo flute launching Debussy’s Faune was lost to audience hubbub and then further compromised by a rebarbative clanger dropped from somewhere in the Hall. An undaunted Runnicles inspired a lissom and flexible rendition, intimate and burgeoning. Moving to Henri Dutilleux’s ‘cello concerto’ was a natural progression. This may not be the strongest of this fastidious composer’s select output – but his painstaking craftsmanship is always a pleasure in itself. Lynn Harrell brought to it dexterity, subtlety and musing, and thus did it proud. Completed in 1970 for Rostropovich (who else!), Dutilleux’s ‘A Whole Distant World’ (the title borrowed from Baudelaire) might be heard as a dreamscape with nightmarish disruptions (aside from those that the restless element in the audience managed), a 30-minute, five-movement contemplation of something beyond our consciousness, the cello soliloquising an interior exquisiteness, the orchestra providing a spectral complement, finely achieved on this occasion, and which made a welcome tribute to a composer now in his 96th-year.
The ‘French Connection’ back-to Ravel then became part-broken, while staying terpsichoreally native, Harrell offering as an encore the pair of ’Bourées’ from J. S. Bach’s C major Cello Suite (BWV1009), the second one daringly quiet, the whole just a little gruff-sounding and awkward, if joyous. Alliteratively, it was now from Bach to Boléro, and still with dance to the fore, this much-abused piece (there are some grotesque arrangements of it out there) here receiving a spruce outing. Its quiet opening – pizzicatos and side drum – was (again) all but lost to din, nevertheless this nifty yet poised, discreetly controlled performance journeyed through the orchestra’s soloists with enthusiasm. Heather Corbett (from within the strings) maintained the drum’s rhythm, and the change-of-key modulation was uplifting, cueing a foot-tapping swinging payoff – the antithesis of the usual mechanistic approach; and, given Dutilleux likes big-band jazz, the circle was completed.
For Daphnis et Chloé the coughing (and other racket) reached absurd levels – this music’s many quiet passages and silent bars regularly obstructed. “Find these louts and chuck them out”, I wrote down – it might rhyme but the sentiments are anything but poetic. And not to forget the couple that were allowed to stroll into a box with noisy ceremony halfway through the piece. Nevertheless, once again, the music-making was terrific. Appointing Runnicles to succeed Ilan Volkov as the BBCSSO’s Chief Conductor was a stroke of genius. He’s working wonders in Glasgow – inspiring and penetrating as well as the master of an eclectic repertoire. For the most part this was a perfectly paced, devotedly detailed and beautifully played reading – Rosemary Eliot producing another limpid flute solo – which was unerringly the ‘choreographic symphony’ that Ravel fashioned. Runnicles’s contouring and characterisation of the ballet score – sensitively responded to by the musicians – created the ancient Greece that Ravel imagined, the conductor’s long-view ensuring that the most-dramatic passages were given their organic due. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus’s vocalising was exemplary, especially in the a cappella section of Part Two, lovingly turned, and the closing ‘Danse générale’ was a five-beat bacchanal inexorably built, Runnicles reserving his most demonstrative gesture of the evening for the final emphatic very-together chord.