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Fauré, Mozart, Debussy and Ravel :Piotr Anderszewski (piano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Stéphane Denève, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London, 24.2.2011 (BBr)

Gabriel Fauré
: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, op.80 (1898)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466 (1785)
Claude Debussy : La Mer (1903/1905)
Maurice Ravel : La Valse (1920)

Pelléas et Mélisande Suite is a beautiful piece of work, and one of this composer's most approachable works; in its four movements, Fauré encapsulates the whole of Maeterlinck's play from start to finish. In the Prelude the Philharmonia achieved an almost perfect pianissimo, married to a miraculous legato. The middle movements were delicate and charming and the final Death of Mélisande was stately and possessed of a sombre authority.

Anderszewski's performance of Mozart's great D minor Concerto was controversial. A friend of mine found it to be exciting and thrilling whereas I found it hard driven and unsympathetic. Denève's opening tutti was exciting insofar as, for the first time, ever, I was conscious of the syncopated rhythms of the violins and the strength of the bass line. The tempo was just about perfect and the balance between piano and orchestra superb. Beethoven's cadenza was well integrated into the whole structure. Anderszewski set a good tempo for the slow movement but, despite a well placed stormy middle section, his playing lacked subtlety. I found the finale to be too aggressive, lacking the surface playfulness, and Anderszewski's own cadenza fell into his overall concept of the movement. I was left dissatisfied with the whole performance even though it was well executed.

Denève was totally at home in the second half of the show. The first movement, of La Mer, started with little more than a whisper and as the sun rose, and the orchestration filled out, the sound was full and round and the balance excellent. The closing pages built to a fine climax which perfectly crowned the music. The scherzo, Play of the Waves was more serious than we are used to and Denève found a darkness I'd never encountered here before. The Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea was sinister, tense and frightening, with a continual feel of menace throughout. The middle section was calmer but the temperature rose for the closing pages and the final peroration was overwhelming.

La Valse
was malevolent and intimidating, with Denève constantly tightening the screws as the music grew and exploded. If the end was lacking in total manic insanity it wasn't for want of trying for everybody concerned was giving their all. Fantastic!

Despite my reservations concerning the performance of the Mozart Concerto this was a very fine show with the Philharmonia on top form.

Bob Briggs

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