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Debussy, Dutilleux and Ravel

Debussy L’Isle Joyeuse & La mer
Dutilleux Prelude no 3 & L'Arbre des Songes
Ravel Gaspard de la nuit & Daphnis and Chloé (complete)

Alexandra Dariescu piano

Leonidas Kavakos violin
LS Chorus & Orchestra/Gergiev

Barbican Hall, 20 September 2009

This was a wonderful evening of music making to open the LSO's autumn season at The Barbican.

The Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, multi-prizewinner (notably of the the prestigious Prix Maurice Ravel in France) introduced us to the composers of the day with a formidable recital of major works by each of them, played straight off and completely by memory. All the music was thoroughly assimilated, even including the last of the three Preludes by Henri Dutilleux, which are in her repertoire this year. She was particularly good in conveying the depths of timbre and overtones within the instrument; hear it online.

I have had difficulty with the violin concerto L'Arbre des Songes, initially when Isaac Stern, its dedicatee, brought it to London c. 1985, and again at tonight's revival. The self-effacing manner and less than seductive tone of Leonidas Kavakos, playing from the score, failed to retain full attention, having to compete with Dutilleux's more interesting orchestral material and, this time, the extraordinarily eye-catching behaviour of Valery Gergiev: "jetsetting arch-multitasker; once on the rostrum his absorption and charisma are all-encompassing" (Evening Standard). Mostly during the evening Gergiev conducted with his expressive hands alone, but for the concerto he used a baton, twirling it around in a quite bizarre way which surely would have conveyed nothing at all to the players but was impossible not to watch (far from the precise technique of Boult, who had been taught by Nikisch "to talk with the point of his baton").

Any doubts about L'Arbre des Songes were extinguished when the 93-yr-old composer rose from his stalls seat to a tumultuous standing ovation. I look forward to giving the concerto (which I find has been recorded several times) another go with the BBC R3 deferred broadcast 24th September.*

The accounts of La mer & Daphnis and Chloé (rarely brought together in the same concert) were illuminating, the ravishing section for the cellos in De l' aube à midi sur la mer one of the high spots of the whole concert. La mer is an imperishable masterpiece, one which never palls even on frequent hearing.

Daphnis and Chloé is a problematic work, originally premiered in 1912, with Nijinsky as Daphnis and Pierre Monteux conducting. Without the dance its "story" is not one to hold the interest easily, even though much of the music is ravishingly beautiful and some of it exciting; those parts more often heard as the Suite No 2. Tonight it was given resplendently in the full 50-mins version, with a very large wordless chorus filling the Choir Seats - the three levels of the hall were virtually sold-out for this not-easy concert.

D & C may never have sounded so sumptuous from a theatre pit as now in The Barbican, with the LSO at its responsive best. And Gergiev's hands are so expressive that maybe they hold the players eyes in thrall as they do ours. I felt I even understood those fluttering fingers, but noted the precision of his other tiny signals and the exact ensemble that resulted. Yet it was odd to see Gergiev's head in the score, busily turning over pages with one hand whilst conducting with the other, in a work which he gave every sign of knowing inside out. That took one's thoughts back to Alexandra Dariescu, who had freed herself for the music and her audience by thoroughly memorising it all...

Peter Grahame Woolf

For those who missed it, this concert should be on BBC iPlayer for a week.
There are to be second performances of La Mer & D & C at the Barbican, so presumably a CD on the LSO Live label will emerge?

* P.S. We've now re-heard this great concert on iPlayer and it is revelatory. The Dutilleux concerto is far better balanced than as heard live from R side of the Barbican stalls (better view there of Gergiev's right hand than of Kavakos playing from his music stand) and tone & balance too are better than "reality" - whichever that is??

Yes, as others have said, it's a beautiful work, rich in detail and orchestration - complete reversal of previous reactions. Reviewing is always subjective, and opinions have to be subject to review. PGW


Dutilleux photo Myles Granger