Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… Er, not quite. There was just a trio of items making up the trousseau in the latest London Philharmonic Orchestra online concert, here conducted by Thomas Søndergård, in which three centuries collided: works composed in 1817, 1917 and 2017.

Ian Hardwick © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Ian Hardwick
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Ravel’s “something borrowed” was first envisaged as a Suite française in 1914, designed to showcase Gallic dance forms. When the composer recast his ideas to honour the memory of fallen friends in World War 1, he drew especially on François Couperin’s compression and elegance, giving pride of place to the Baroque era’s solo instrument of choice, the oboe. Given in its final four-movement orchestration, the dance-like rhythms of Le Tombeau de Couperin were very much in evidence, nimble-footed and on point, with almost no hints of the melancholy and sorrow implied by the title. The second movement Forlane was taken quite languorously, full of playful dreaminess suggestive of Venetian gondolieri, and the concluding Rigaudon (M. Rigaud was a dancing-master from Marseille) had all the frolicsome exuberance of unburdened spirits. Throughout, the LPO wind soloists distinguished themselves by dint of their vibrant playing, especially Ian Hardwick in his many important oboe solos.

Thomas Søndergård © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Søndergård
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

The oboe also featured prominently in the “something new” department: Bent Sørensen’s Evening Land, where this instrument was intended as a tribute to the composer’s father-in-law.  Like so many other impressionistic pieces, it makes use of atmospheric sequences, beginning with a haunting opening melody for the leader, gradually building to collective sighs from the full orchestra. These moments were inspired, in the composer’s words, by “a very special evening light over the fields” of his native Denmark. That is only half the story though. This all gives way to a passage in which the orchestra stutters along staccato-like, the bass drum adding a sense of menace. The contrast that Sørensen introduces at this stage represents a “new vision of flashes of light and bustling activity” which he observed in New York at a later stage of his career. For all the craftsmanship on display, and Søndergård held the piece together very effectively, the two opposites were never fully developed: the anger was always controlled, never reaching anything approaching fever-pitch, and the stillness of the many episodes for strings never quite achieved mesmerising qualities. 

“Something old”? Terpsichore took centre-stage for this performance of Schubert’s Sixth Symphony, with dance-like qualities emphasised from the start right through to elements of an écossaise in the Finale. Busy strings and chattering winds delighted the ear whereas the brass was kept firmly in check. What I missed were those all-important dramatic references to Beethoven as well as the infectiousness of Rossini.

Thomas Søndergård conducts the LPO © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Søndergård conducts the LPO
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Oh yes: the “something blue”. It was there all right, not in any score, but in the lighting. I spent some time pondering the efficacy of the way in which this stream was lit. It was almost a case of son et lumière. For the Ravel both the stage and the hall were bathed in rather a lot of harsh blue light deployed by cinema-like floodlights, not very appropriately. For the Sørensen this was changed to much softer geometric patterns of blue light on the platform, and for the concluding symphony the performing space was suffused with shades between pink and burgundy. Curious. No complaints, however, about Nathan Prince’s video direction. Here is a man who clearly knows what he’s doing: none of these now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t succession of frantic camera switches. The whole orchestra was frequently shown playing together, the elegant arcs of Søndergård’s baton were dutifully acknowledged and close-ups of individual players cued precisely. Others please note.

 

This performance was reviewed from the Marquee TV video stream

 

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