Seen and Heard Concert
Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius
Ana-Maria Vera (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa
(conductor), RFH, February 4 2005 (AR)
Ostensibly, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s popular
programme of war-horse classics didn’t seem to inspire surprise,
but under Takuo Yuasa’s direction these works sounded astonishingly
fresh and newly minted. The London Philharmonic Orchestra responded
warmly to his baton, playing with precision and panache throughout
Claude Debussy’s La Mer is often mistreated as
a flashy showcase for virtuoso orchestras but here Yuasa enticed
the LPO to play with chamber-like intimacy and a delicate transparency.
The opening From dawn to Midday at Sea was contemplative
and distilled, perfectly evoking the twilit atmosphere; the muted
trumpet captured the pearly grey mist of the sea at dawn. Often
this movement is played far too loudly, sounding congested and
over inflated, but here all the orchestral detail shone through
radiantly. The Play of the Waves was just that with Yuasa
conjuring up translucent textures and buoyant rhythms. The mood
shifted in the concluding Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea
with the opulent LPO increasing in intensity and drama but never
drowning out (pun intended) the fine orchestral details in the
climaxes. It is difficult to imagine a more atmospheric, dramatic
and sensitively played La Mer.
Pianist Ana-Maria Vera’s reading of Ravel’s Piano
Concerto in G can only be described as bland from beginning
to end. Her playing was typical of the sewing- machine school
of pianists: monochrome and mechanical, devoid of poetry or passion.
Vera’s phrasing in the opening passages of the Allegramente
was clipped at the edges with the notes sounding fragmented and
snatched. Throughout, her pedestrian playing had more to do with
athletics than aesthetics, with muscularity replacing musicality.
In stark contrast, the orchestral accompaniment was full of character
and poetry, with some noticeably exquisite harp playing and chirrupy
woodwind solos. Her anodyne playing of the Adagio assai
was harsh and hard-toned, lacking the grace and poignancy required
and only the sensitive playing of the LPO saved us from complete
boredom. In the Presto again the LPO played with spirited
character and great aplomb serving even further to emphasise Vera’s
dullness of tone and sterile phrasing.
Takuo Yuasa proved a supreme Sibelian, conducting the composer’s
First Symphony with a total grasp of its structure and
a strict adherence to the score whilst also securing the chilling
mood of the authentic Sibelius sound.
The Allegro, ma non troppo was beautifully measured,
opening with an arrestingly chilling clarinet solo. As the music
unfolded and the pulse quickened, Yuasa drew out sharply etched
and taut rhythms from the strings, contrasting starkly with the
lyrical harp accompaniments. The timpanist is an important component
throughout in driving this movement forward and Simon Carrington
played with admirably incisive bite. Yuasa conducted the Andante
with great feeling and understanding, penetrating the quasi-romantic
dark depths of the score as I have never heard before. In contrast,
the witty Scherzo had a lilting grace, the woodwind solos
in particular being played with great aplomb. Like the first movement,
the opening of the Finale was measured and brooding,
the cellos’ playing with a grinding, grainy weightiness.
Yuasa slowly built up the tension and energy, with rich, lush
strings striving towards the unfolding climax, culminating in
Carrington’s dramatic timpani strokes followed by a quiet
roll dissolving away to silence.
A packed house showed their appreciation for this glowing performance,
and a self-effacing conductor was at great pains to ensure that
his plaudits were shared by the orchestra. I hope to see Mr.Yuasa
with the LPO again very soon – they work well together.
Claude Debussy: La Mer; Saint Saens: Symphony
No. 3 ‘Organ’; Ibert: Escales - Boston Sym. Orch.;
Charles Munch (conductor): RCA Living Stereo 3-channel SACD 82876-71387-2,
Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G, Concerto
for Piano left hand in D major; Jean-Phillipe Collard (piano);
Orchestre de France, Lorin Maazel (conductor): Emi Classics Encore:
ADD CD: 74749.
Jean Sibelius: 1st Symphony, 6th Symphony: Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan (conductor) EMI Classics
CDD 7 63896 2.