Classical and Opera

Proms at Cadogan Hall 6: Soloists of the Berliner Philharmoniker @ Cadogan Hall, London

3 September 2018

Alasdair Beatson

Alasdair Beatson
(Photo: Giorgia Bertazzi)

Once in a while the programme of a concert matches perfectly the mood and the weather. These gentle, lucent summer’s-end days call for light airy impressionism, and Monday lunchtime’s Cadogan Hall concert delivered just that with a programme containing chamber music by Ravel, Debussy and Boulanger (with a newly commissioned work by the Slovenian composer Nina Šenk).

The works by Lili Boulanger – Nocturne for violin and piano and Trois morceaux for solo piano – were heavily infused with Debussy’s influence. The Nocturne (given a light and sensitive rendering by Alasdair Beatson and Maja Avramović) summoned perfectly Paris in early autumn with a series of gently falling piano octaves under a triste little tune (and was that a brief final quote from Prélude á l’après-midi d’un faune?).

The three solo piano pieces (D’un vieux jardin, D’un jardin clair, Cortège) seemed, between them, to carry a slice of La cathédrale engloutie – moving from sonorous chords underpinning a wandering melody in the first piece through to a slightly more animated compound-time feel with a tolling left-hand bell in the second, and surely the most sprightly funeral procession ever (a hint of an Écossaise fused with the witches’ dance from Night on a bare mountain) in the final piece – all delivered with exactitude by Beatson.

Debussy’s late Sonata for flute, viola, and harp is a piece made of air. The first movement is barely a trio – the three instruments play scraps of half-realised melody, which occasionally coalesce; Emmanuel Pahud, Amihai Grosz and Marie-Pierre Langlamet managed this effect to perfection, seemingly floating towards each other, sensitive to each other’s tempi and rubato as the sonata gained structure in the second and third movements. The jolly Allegro in the second movement was light and frothy and the glissando whirls of breeze that end the movement to become a sharp mistral in the final movement were a reminder of autumn to come.

Nina Šenk’s Baca (for string quartet, harp, flute and clarinet) was inspired by the process of glass-making, and it was possible to hear molten bubbles form, rise and burst in the overlapping ascending scales that occurred throughout, the whooshes, squeaks and pops from the wind and pizzicato strings, and the lightly toiling motif early on in the ‘cello. It’s a piece of sound effects (the harp brushed with a sleeve and hit with a beater); a hissing, fizzing, clanking laboratory, that seems to have its origins in the more experimental works of Les Six. And, like any experimental process, its value is, as yet, unclear.

Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (for harp, string quartet, flute and clarinet) encapsulates, in music, a day in late summer – the listener invited to bask in the last warmth of lush string passages and lazily sounded harp arpeggios, that are occasionally interrupted by small chilly flurries from the woodwind sounding the harbingers of colder weather. The seven players conjured all of this at a tempo that was slightly faster than usual, but with an intensity and warmth (especially in the strings) that more than compensated. The pull-ups were beautifully handled, the harp cadenza towards the close was as delicate as you’d want, and the surprising diminuendo/crescendo into the final chord was magical.

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Proms at Cadogan Hall 6: Soloists of the Berliner Philharmoniker @ Cadogan Hall, London