Saturday, 24 October 2009

Leif Ove Andsnes returns - Deneve and the RSNO play Dutilleux, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky

Perhaps it's just that I'm not used to having the RSNO back in their regular Friday evening slot, but for whatever reason, this concert had completely slipped my mind (despite a ticket being in my desk drawer and a colour-coded entry existing in my calendar; oh yes, I can be amazingly anal sometimes). It was just as well, then, that it was being trailed in the Metro, since I'd be kicking myself if I'd missed another chance to hear Leif Ove Andsnes.

Regular readers will recall he last came to Scotland back in May with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. That concert saw him as both soloist and director, firmly in the classical period with concerti by Mozart and Beethoven (with a Haydn encore thrown in for good measure). Last night found him in the great and sweeping romantic territory of Rachmaninov's fourth concerto, a work which, apparently, he has not done before, not that you would have known that.

The piece provides a very different style, one where the soloist seems at times just another instrument, rather than dominating the proceedings. However, Andsnes was always audible and Deneve ensured the orchestra never swamped him. He found the power that such works call for, yet without recourse to excessive thumping of the keyboard and without any loss of clarity. There was delicacy too, when the score allowed for it, and throughout a wonderful poetry to his playing. Let us hope he returns to Scotland soon, perhaps as a soloist/director with the SCO; that would certainly be worth hearing.

The heavily loaded second half concluded with Stravinsky's Firebird (or, rather, the 1919 suite). This is the kind of piece where Deneve always seems particularly at home as it is something of a party piece, especially in the Infernal Dance of King Kastchei. He was in control throughout, drawing wonderful precision from the orchestra and providing a thrilling close to the evening, greeted by loud cheers from the audience. It made you wish they'd played the full ballet.

The only disappointment concerned the work that opened the evening: Henri Dutilleux's first symphony. As ever, Deneve insisted in giving an overlong talk introducing it. I don't doubt that Dutilleux is a lovely man, but did we really need to hear so in quite such effusive detail, or how Deneve had once encountered him while shopping for shrimps in Paris? Only about half the talk was devoted to the actual music. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, while I'm not a huge fan of talking conductors, the ones who do it well provide a big insight into the music without needing to pad it out with the other stuff.

The piece itself was rather a dull damp squib, and seemed long for what it contained. This is all the more of a surprise given that the combination of Deneve and a French composer can usually be relied upon to be a thrilling experience. Audience reaction was rather polite in comparison to the other pieces. That said, I'm always glad to have heard new music at least once, even if I'll be in no hurry to hear this again.

Glaswegian readers still have time to catch the concert this evening and it will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 29th October.

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