wed 19/09/2018

Prom 45, Capuçon, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Nott - scintillating new era for Swiss magicians | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 45, Capuçon, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Nott - scintillating new era for Swiss magicians

Prom 45, Capuçon, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Nott - scintillating new era for Swiss magicians

Top British artistic director in Geneva gives us the Ansermet tradition plus

Jonathan Nott - initiating a new golden age in GenevaAll images by Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Who is the greatest British conductor in charge of a major orchestra? It's subjective, but my answer is not what you might expect. Jonathan Nott has done all his major work so far on the continent. He left the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in excellent shape to another of the world's best, Jakub Hrůša; and now he is, as we learned from two long-term players in the Proms Plus talk, liked and respected across the board at the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Continuity with the first major Swiss orchestra founded by Ernest Ansermet 100 years ago was underlined last night in Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, Ansermet's three strongest suits. A crucial Ligeti encore simply brought promise of what else Nott can do in Geneva.

Does anything remain of that French-Swiss timbre which still comes across so distinctively on Ansermet's 314 Decca recordings with the orchestra (a further 624 broadcasts are lodged in the Suisse Romande archive, awaiting further dissemination)? Possibly in the bright, cutting-edge brass and the supple wiriness of the strings, though the woodwind is vastly more sophisticated than in Ansermet's time.

It seems the orchestra found its feet quickly in the tricky Albert Hall acoustics during rehearsals; Jeux, Debussy's enigmatic ballet score for Diaghilev, rippled and glinted, drawing you in to the mystery with flecks of startling colour and much more sweep to the dance rhythms than usual in this tricky score (who would guess from its eastern promise that it featured Nijinsky as a tennis player in naughty games with two ladies?). The dissolve after a persuasive climax was as deft as the one achieved by Ludovic Morlot with the CBSO in Debussy's "Sirènes" the previous evening. Capucon and Nott in Ravel at the PromsWhen the tally of great concerto (or in this case, perhaps, concertante) performances in 2018 comes to be made, the partnership of super-subtle violinist Renaud Capuçon with Nott and the Swiss players (pictured above) will be right at the top of the list. In 2013 Yan Maresz achieved the near impossible: to score Ravel's Violin Sonata as magically as the master orchestrator himself would have done. Keeping it light and coruscating, Maresz lets the soloist duet at times with single wind instruments, substituting the percussive edge of the piano with something infinitely more ethereal in the central Blues (no "optional washboard" that I heard last night).

Cue for scoring here surely comes from Ravel's "Five O'Clock Foxtrot" for Wedgwood teapot and china cup in L'enfant et les sortilèges, to feature in Saturday's Prom, and the rippling clarinets in the finale are surely of the same provenance. Capuçon never abused a star soloist's privilege, his moto perpetuo in the finale simply offsetting more orchestral wonders, and his generous encore with the orchestra – Massenet's Meditation from Thaïs – placed the supple inward beauty of the melody first and any showmanship second.

Stravinsky's Petrushka is not an easy score to manipulate in Albert's Colosseum, and its opening fairground buzz could have done with more cut from where I was sitting, especially since Nott, like Ansermet, prefers the thicker textures of the 1910 original. But the wistful ditty based on a song about Sarah Bernhardt's wooden leg – Stravinsky didn't know the source and had to pay royalties – gave the first indication of a poignant freedom which was to give "Petrushka's Cell" a novel space for the sad puppet's self-communings to breathe (with the best work I've heard here from the solo pianist, uncredited in the programme). Jonathan NottThe Moor's lolloping courtship of the ballerina, brittle-bright in a flawless trumpet solo, had quicker mood-shifts, and Nott found a rare momentum in the first of the final fairground divertissement numbers (after all Stravinsky's urban song source here, "Along the Peter Road", is no slouch). But the pathos returned in eloquent high style for Petrushka's death (what was it that the percussionist so theatrically did for the final flump, marked in the revised score "hold tambourine close to the floor and let it fall flat"?)

Following the perfectly-placed final pizzicato note, the enigma that Diaghilev disdained – he would have preferred an applause-drawing forte – was brushed aside, after an enthusiastic reception, with the most brilliant of encores. That was Ligeti mania at the start, surely, but then all the fast showmanship, tziganery tinged with the mania of the Hungarian friss, or fast section of a two-mood national dance? It turned out to be the finale of his early (1951) Concert Românesc. May Nott's further adventures with his Swiss orchestra be as dazzlingly original as what Ligeti went on to do – it already sounds as if they will be.

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