Orchestre National de France, Gatti, Royal Albert Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Orchestre National de France, Gatti, Royal Albert Hall
A hit-and-miss Prom for Gatti's French band
It was one of those moments that every conductor (and orchestra) dreads: “The Procession of the Sage” from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is in rip-roaring full cry, percussion grinding and scratching, high trumpet screeching – but Daniele Gatti, it would seem, loses a bar somewhere and gives his Orchestre National de France a premature cut-off, leaving the entire brass section between a rock and a hard place. Stop or play on? An ignominious collapse ensues – as big a blunder as I’ve heard in any professional concert in years. Who says The Rite of Spring no longer has the capacity to shock?Unfair, perhaps, to start a review with the low-point of the evening, particularly as I have such enormous respect for Gatti, but this was a problematic Prom for him in so many respects. Since I’ve begun with the Rite, let’s just say that this was a performance to remind us that Stravinsky’s seminal score is not as easy as it is made to sound these days. France’s oldest established orchestra really had its work cut out and quite apart from the big gaff towards the end of part one, I, for one, never felt totally secure. Would the “Dance of the Earth” and the “Sacrificial Dance” make it to the double-bar line? It was edge-of-seat stuff alright, the final bars of both parts sounding decidedly precarious.
And Gatti had begun so interestingly, launching into the accented chords of the “Auguries of Spring” with disarmingly springy lightness (it isn’t marked, as it is so often played, triple-forte) – enough to suggest that this might prove to be an especially balletic reading of the score. Well, it was to a point – the point at which the dancers started stepping on each others' toes. Yes, of course, it had exciting moments – when does it not? – but actually it just wasn’t good enough.
The concert had begun in strange and beautiful symmetry to the Rite’s opening bassoon solo with the languorous flute solo of that other Ballets Russes cause cèlébre, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. An easy suppleness, a tantalising restraint, marked out Gatti’s reading and the orchestra, in marked contrast to the Rite, were so relaxed they were almost horizontal.
Gatti was taking his time, too – time-and-a-half in Debussy’s La mer. Opening with a gorgeously half-lit sonority and throbbing undertow, the distinctive thing about this performance was clarity without over-accentuation. The French know (and so does Gatti, it seems) how to work the tempo-rubato, how to soften the contours and mix the colours, how to keep the brush strokes discreet so that passages like that for divisi cellos in the first sketch don’t come across as too "literal". But it needed more variety of pace and despite many luminous passages – not least that in violin harmonics and flute, the still moment just prior to the grand peroration – it was apt to over-luxuriate. And I’m surprised that Gatti, a man of good taste, chose to include those spurious trumpet fanfares to the expectant string tremolandi in the closing pages.
Incidentally, the Albert Hall was jam-packed to the rafters, which just goes to show that in a record-breaking season you can shut down the tube network but you won’t keep the Proms audience away.
- See theartsdesk's pick of the BBC Proms, 16 July-11 September
- See full BBC Proms 2010 listings
- Listen to this Prom for the next six days on BBC Radio 3 on BBC iPlayer
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Well-known tunes from influential Americans and a German romantic in cerebral mood
Finely focused reading from Nelsons and the CBSO rings true and powerful
Heartfelt Schumann outplays heavyweight Strauss and lunatic Grainger
Subtle touches but too little passionate abandon in this fine team's lopsided programme
Cannonades all round as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture follows Rachmaninov and Stravinsky
Music trumps politics in youthful, even joyous Shostakovich 'Leningrad' Symphony
A second album for Berlin Phil musician will expand the repertoire downwards
Mozart and Mahler at a festival that's about so much more than just star-power
Full orchestral back-up for the charismatic chanteuse in trademark Weill and others
A dazzling contemporary opera, three classical symphonies and piano music from father and daughter
Perfect cello and piano duo spotlights Britten, with eastern liturgical music to follow
Feathery jewels from the pianist, but mixed fortunes for Nielsen’s battle-scarred symphony