Goethe claimed “To blow is not to play the flute: you must move the fingers.” Tonight, both were equally necessary, as the audience witnessed in Bruno Mantovani’s uprooting Love Songs for flute and orchestra with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. With exceptional nuance, lead flautist Juliette Hurel demonstrated her Olympian skills in this technically exhausting, often violent work. With the ear calibrated to the flute, the match up to Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s wildly upbeat Bruckner’s Symphony no. 8 in C minor led to some profound highlights in which the flute passages offered newly heard contrast in Bruckner’s musical world.

© Juliette Hurel
© Juliette Hurel

Director of Paris Conservatory Bruno Mantovani has been saddled by Le Monde with the title of “the Mozart of the 21st century”. Quite the claim, but tonight Mantovani’s new work demonstrated an extraordinary inventiveness in the application of the higher registers of the flute. In the layout, the orchestra was split into two, mirroring each other, with Ms Hurel and Nézet-Séguin in the middle. This was meant to form a stereophonic effect, although perhaps more in concept than reality.

Flute lovers must have had a field day with Mantovani’s dynamic ode to the instrument. Love Songs refers to Mantovani’s love for the flute and its player. A quartet of flutes commences the piece. As Ms Hurel joined in, she charged against them with bellicose temperament, reaching the extreme high registers of her instrument. Mantovani proved his composing skills in an orgy of timbres for all five flutes, echoing Henri Dutilleux’s colourful extremes.

In the turbulent passages for timpani and percussion, Edgar Varèse’s Ameriques often came to my mind. In an uphill battle, the French flautist maintained her own, elegance and all, while valiantly guiding her flute through Mantovani’s soundscape.

With the score in front of him, Nézet-Séguin conducted with uncharacteristic restraint: he delivered tempi with utmost diligence. This was absolutely necessary for Mantovani’s rhythmic complexities. Although he exchanged his dancing conducting for rigorous precision, the Canadian conductor still infused the piece with his trademark élan.

Flautists ruled the performance. Whoever dreamt up this programme, clearly discovered the complementary nature of the pieces. The programme notes promised Mantovani’s work would shine a new light on Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Although I was initially sceptical, the flute work did fine tune my auditory cortex to notice Bruckner’s flute passages, impeccably produced by Adriana Ferreira. She delivered beautiful phrasing, alternatingly subtle and shrill in contrasts. Impressively, she fought off Bruckner’s fortissimo passages.

Throughout the Bruckner, Nézet-Séguin exhibited his showmanship. He kept his musicians on the edge of their seats, following him with complete dedication. In the third movement, Nézet-Séguin brought to life the subtle romance, reminding me of Mahler’s disarming Adagietto in his Fifth Symphony. Such swooning romance was unforgettable.

Nézet-Séguin’s rendition of Bruckner’s mighty Eighth had several inconsistencies. His uneven momentum led to fiery string passages, while at other points they merely simmered. I wondered how his Bruckner would have been, had he conducted with the rigor he displayed in Mantovani. Instead some passages lacked solemnity and gravitas, culminating in a lack of monumental grandeur. Still, the composer infused the piece with a contagious energy, so although lacking in Bruckner’s traditional cosmic intensity, Nézet-Séguin still offered an exhilarating experience.

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