Prom 61: RCO/Jansons | Classical review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Mariss Jansons always responds to the Proms. In other halls, the conductor's tightly marshalled interpretations can lack revelatory qualities, but in the Albert Hall he tends to summon up something much more searching. In this programme of music by three composers who all stopped writing in later life, he did it once again. Mind you, it would help any conductor to be able to share his most inspired evenings with the wonderful Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

From the first perfectly judged timpani roll and the hauntingly phrased clarinet solo at the start of Sibelius's First Symphony, it was clear that this was going to be a vintage orchestral evening. Jansons had the good sense not to put a straitjacket on the experimental daring of a work where Russian influences shape the emerging Sibelius vernacular. As in any Concertgebouw concert, there was opportunity to revel in orchestral detail, but this performance in no way lacked structural tension. The release from the last big tune into the two pizzicato chords of the final bar was stunningly done.

In the second half, Magdalena Kozená's elegant mezzo proved ideal for five of Henri Duparc's orchestrated songs, with enough vocal weight to ride the impeccably played accompaniment in these rapturous pieces, but enough clarity to make the words count. A Debussy encore was a reminder that Kozená is a born Mélisande.

Then came Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé second suite, with everything wonderfully clear and balanced: the bubbling woodwind of the sunrise brilliantly articulated, and Jansons overseeing an elegantly choreographed frenzy in the final dance. Debussy and Elgar provided generous encores, but this Daphnis was 18 minutes of pure orchestral bliss.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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