Concert: Dutilleux and Ravel - London, RFH 12.02.15

Dutilleux: Correspondances*
Ravel: Piano Concert in G+
Ravel: L'Enfant et les Sortiléges* **

*Barabara Hanningan
+Mitsuko Uchida
Philharmonia Voices and Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen

**Full cast below

Barbara Hanningan was in town to sing Dutilleux coupled with an outing for Mitsuko Uchida in the Ravel concerto and an entire Ravel opera: it was a feast I could hardly refuse.

The Philharmonia's 'City of Light' celebration had already seen Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande in November to acclaim, and Hanningan had been the shocker showgirl in her latest realisation of Ligeti's protagonist in Le Grand Macabre with Rattle in mid January. Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic residency - a cycle of Sibelius symphonies seems so ill-judged for a London audience, but we are honoured to have them for a week. The capital has been well treated recently. It seems like a good time to be concert going - coughs and colds in the audience aside.

Dutilleux's Correspondance was the performance to savour - I doubt I will see it done as well again by anyone else. Barbara Hanningan and Esa-Pekka Salonen have made it their own. Their recording of this 21st century song cycle based selected letters - has been out for some time and it is a marvellous thing. But hearing it live one gets so much more not least the impact of the composer's writing, at times as delicate or magical as Ravel but at other times steely and ferocious. The full stage presence of Barbara Hannigan has to be seen to be appreciated. Her movement as she sings is half the story. You can get some sense of that here.

The words for the last song are taken from a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo - in he describes the beauty and security of the stars and the sun and then turns to his own demons. Hannighan delivers this transition with a compelling combination of voice and body. Ultimately Vincent's horror is caught in her frozen agonised face of agony as the final chord collapses the music. It was chilling and the London audience - for once - respected this moment of tension with a lingering dreadful silence. I doubt I'll hear it again in my lifetime and I certainly doubt I'll hear it with such immediate rawness and harrowing intimacy.

The remainder of the concert turned out to be less earth shattering. Uchida's Ravel is a thing of beauty and throughout she demonstrated the exhausting concentration and energy which the piece requires. Her phrasing had a pertetuo mobile quality and especially in the opening of the slow movement ,where piano practice recollected, is turned into something a deal more hypnotic and dare I say this a little sinister. Certainly it's shorn of the sentiment and the overbearing nostalgia of some readings. There was something pleasingly detached about the reading but that required a different type of engagement. Her fans enjoyed it hugely - I was left a little uneasy - at the time feeling she may have gone too far - but on reflection my feeling it was a typically thoughtful reading which read across to a different musical world further afield that the gaiety of Paris. Uchida signalled this beautifully in her encore, Schonberg's miniature Op 19 No 2.

It was wonderful to hear L'Enfant at Les Sortiléges - semi staged with a largely French cast. The orchestra played beautifully and Salonen though he indulges the composer's sentimentality when required key the episodes moving and the colours varied. The Philharmonia - working in semi darkness - were full of flashes of individual skill showing why I think they are the best of the London's big four.

The cast were as follows:-

Chloé Briot - Child
Elodie Méchain Mother/Chinese Cup/Dragonfly
Andrea Hill Louis XV Chair/Shephard/White Cat/Squirrel
Omo Bello Shephardess/Bat/Owl
Sabine Devieilhe Fire/Nightingale
Barbara Hannighan Princess
Jean-Sébastien Bou Grandfatehr Clock/Tom Cat
François Piolino Teapot/Arithmetic/Frog
Nicholas Courjal Armchair/Tree

Plus the Philharmonia Voices

As with the Dutilleux, the performance was subtitled.

The action was played out on a raised platform behind the orchestra (at orchestra stalls level) and in front of the stage. But for a newbie to the opera - there was too little to delineate the different parts each singer took so I found the characters hard to follow. The singing was glorious as was the playing and, when the music demanded it, beautifully moving: Sabine Devieilhe dazzled vocally as fire and Hanninghan was affecting as the Princess. Chloé Briot was vocally just right and looked the part. On the whole I can say as a newcomer to the opera that it is hugely varied in its musical content, tells a good story (libretto by Colette) and yet it lacks the kind of fire we might associate with, say, Daphnis and Chloe's more headstrong moments.

Overall the Dutilleux will stay with me for a long time - it was heart-stopping - and anyone who gets the chance to see Hanningan in this music should do so: it is iconic.


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