Two seldom performed works featured in this mostly French programme under the up-and-coming Parisian conductor Chloé van Soeterstède. Following viola studies in Paris and London, she graduated from the RNCM in 2017 and is now making a highly favourable impression throughout Europe. Judging from this debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, she’s clearly someone to watch. Edgar Moreau, another Parisian, was the soloist for Saint-Saëns’s popular Cello Concerto no. 1 in A minor.

Chloé van Soeterstède
© Valerie Bernardini

But the evening began with the seldom performed Suite pastorale by Emmanuel Chabrier – a much under-appreciated composer (though not forgetting his España) – once admired by Francis Poulenc who described his music as “an inexhaustible treasure-house”. The four characterful pieces that make up his Suite pastorale are transcriptions from his 1881 piano anthology Dix pièces pittoresques. Van Soeterstède and the BSO did much to underline their charm and showcase Chabrier’s gift for colour, outlined first in a limpid flute solo in Idylle and then in a resolute clarinet melody in the rustic Danse villageoise. There was much to enjoy too in the subtle timbres and insouciance of Sous-bois, and the unbuttoned vigour of Scherzo-Valse. No wonder Chabrier declared his music to resound to “the stamp of my Auvergnat clogs”. But while these pieces are full of incident, their joie de vivre emerged only intermittently.

Nearly a decade earlier, Saint-Saëns had conceived his A minor Cello Concerto, its Gallic charm and turbulence partially realised in this account with Edgar Moreau as the technically assured soloist. If in this debut his dynamic range was limited (the start was anything but explosive), he beguiled with velvet tone in the work’s rhapsodic sections, winning me over in the quiet musings of the central Allegretto con moto, its neoclassical qualities nicely underlined. But, where were the contrasts, the poetry and the passion? Light and shade were largely supplied by van Soeterstède and the orchestra, both capturing the elemental fervour in the tuttis of the concerto’s outer sections. Had the soloist matched the élan of the BSO, the concerto’s romantic spirit might have been better served. He returned to the platform for the Sarabande from Bach’s Third Cello Suite.

César Franck’s once fashionable Symphony in D minor was an entirely different story, given a compelling performance here that raised the question as to why this work has all but disappeared from our concert halls. Until the late 1950s it used to be heard almost every year at the Proms. This highly charged account was to refute criticisms from early detractors (such as Ravel’s complaint of stodgy orchestration) and made an undeniable case for the symphony’s reinstatement. From the beginning van Soeterstède exercised a firm grip on the work’s mood swings and fashioned a reading of accumulating tension from its departmentalised structure. Not least was her acute ear for balance and control over dynamics, superbly judging the moment when trumpets, resplendent rather than overbearing, take over the first movement’s blousy secondary theme. A forward placed harp compromised balance at the start of the Allegretto, but compensation arrived in Rebecca Kozam’s haunting cor anglais and some silky string playing. But it was in the sweep of the finale that the BSO really excelled, building from their incisive attack to incorporate nobility and swagger, the whole blazing with conviction. This performance unquestionably asserted Franck’s symphonic credentials and made clear a return visit from van Soeterstède could not be soon enough. 

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