A masked Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Barbara Hannigan played Stravinsky, Offenbach and Kurt Weill to a masked, full capacity audience that responded with thunderous applause that went on for minutes at a time; there was an appetite in the hall for live music and it had been unleashed. The orchestra's trademark desire to dramatize and their lively imagination led to a highly contagious mix of pure delight followed, perhaps in tribute to the times, by two deeply sad lyrical plaints.

Barbara Hannigan
© Radio France

Hannigan's Pulcinella was rich in human yearning, expertly sung. The first chair strings sang their solos whenever possible rather than automatically playing the angles, the conductor's steady speeds allowed for a nice casual attitude in the orchestra and gave them rein to shine in all the solo riffs the score provides. The woodwinds delightfully cooed and chirped in “Contento force vivere”, the introduction to “Con queste caroline” was wonderfully scrumptious, and Julia Dawson's introspective “Sei tu m'ami” had echoes of a Russian dirge. The Gavotte was elegant, and smooth.

Heard on its own and not as the accompaniment to a ballet, Gaîté Parisienne is a reasonable enough facsimile of what Offenbach was all about. On the other hand, as was explained to me more than 50 years ago by Étienne Ploix, the proprietor of a long gone, iconic music store in rue Saint-Placide near the Luxembourg Gardens, Manuel Rosenthal's pastiche was not an arrangement, but a “dérangement” because it tamed the visceral intentions of the operettas it came from. With that said, Hannigan's Gaîté Parisienne, after starting off at an uncertain gait, decided just to have as much fun as possible which meant, for all her flowing gesticulations on the podium, giving the excellent musicians of the OPRF plenty of time to display their style and attitude. She set slow speeds for the waltzes and was then joined by Dawson for an enchanting performance of the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann, in a lovely coup de théâtre which blurred the boundaries between conducting and singing.

Julia Dawson, Barbara Hannigan and l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
© Radio France

The program ended with an acknowledgement of the concert's underlying gravity with two songs by Kurt Weill sung by Hannigan as if she had stepped into the close intimacy of a cabaret lounge. One was programmed, Weill's late Youkali, a slow, sad dance about paradise lost. The other was the encore, Lost in the Stars, about faith. The applause lasted until the musicians left the stage.

This performance was reviewed from the live Arte video stream