“Music like the sea, often takes hold of me,” Baudelaire describes in his poem La Musique. Tonight’s performance certainly was transportive. The poet would surely not have suffered from his ennui with the riveting Sennu Laine in a superlative Tout un monde lointain…, an interpretation of the poet’s universe by Dutilleux. As a balmy summer heat permeated Berlin this spring evening, Daniel Barenboim led a fittingly sensuous programme. With Images and an ebullient Daphnis et Chloé, his Staatskapelle intoxicated the audience with these effervescent French bouquets.

Barenboim opened the evening with Debussy. Switching the order, he kept the crowd-pleasing Ibéria for last. In Gigues, he combined moderate tempo with strict optimism. This dreamy dance set the tone for 20th-century French style of the evening. Rondes de printemps maintained the light ambience.

For Ibéria, Barenboim closed the score and revealed the liberal side of his conducting. He sculpted tempi with elegance and generated flawless transparency. Enhanced by the acoustics, Yulia Deyneka’s viola solo unfolded glowing like a singular golden thread in the strings’ thick tapestry. Barenboim developed a slow-burning suspense peppered by the exotic spices from the woodwinds in “Les parfums de la nuit”.

In the final “Le matin d'un jour de fête” Barenboim went all out capitalising on the work’s rhythmic complexities. With the Spanish temperament invigorating and overflowing, the Argentine born conductor even made a few seemingly spontaneous flamenco taps and hip shakes that would not have been misplaced in a Latin American dance. Ever so brief, those giveaways by Barenboim were delightfully expressive. The orchestra reacted with a vibrant and brilliant finale.

The highlight of the evening came from Sennu Laine’s electrifying performance of Dutilleux. Ceaselessly she sustained a powerful current throughout the five movement uninterrupted variation of a cello concerto. At several moments, she would sway her cello as if soothing the composer’s often pointed intensity. With intense focus she infused the Énigme, Regard, Houles (with an effective contrast by the piccolo!), and Miroirs with a fierce elegance that sometimes bordered on a raw sensuality.

Inspired by excerpts from Baudelaire’s dark Romantic poems, Dutilleux’s world sounds lugubrious, mysterious, sometimes even threatening, and absolutely haunted. Laine’s sensitivity and technical skills led to dark colours, eerie vibrato, a rarified lower register, all enveloped by a canopy of orchestral mist from Barenboim. Together they lulled the audience into a major musical stupor that Baudelaire could have appreciated.

The final movement Hymne opens with an energetic burst. A surge brings the listener back to the now. Throughout the work, Laine and Barenboim brought out a richness and suspense in Dutilleux I had not heard before tonight. 

Where Dutilleux put the audience into an opiatic slumber, the second suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé energised as Barenboim lavished us in splendour. In “Pantomime” with quite the emotional resonance, Claudia Stein’s solo captivated. Her razor sharp sound and generous vulnerability, sparked a charge that made Ravel’s flute passages ascend and cast a magnificent brilliance over the orchestra’s already resonant glow. With an animated “Danse générale”, Barenboim closed this exuberant evening.