Conductor: Matthew Halls
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Dutilleux: Tout un monde lointain - David Hardy
Vaughn Williams: Symphony No 2 (A London Symphony)
After the fun musical prelude of the Millennium Stage and an equally wonderful get-together with old friends in the NSO Lounge, we were finally ready for the National Symphony Orchestra concert of the evening. The fact of the matter is, I had picked this particular weekend to come down more because it worked better in terms of work schedule than because I wanted to catch this specific concert. The program had not exactly made me want to drop everything and show up, but it still sounded attractive enough with an exciting, if thorny, work by Dutilleux bookended by pleasant and much more traditional pieces by Ravel and Vaughn Williams.
Although I've always liked the delicate nuances of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin", it is not a composition I have ever had particularly strong feelings about. The orchestra's performance was as lovely as could be and the musicians seemed to respond well to their conductor for the evening, the young but definitely in charge Matthew Halls.
Dutilleux's "Tout un monde lointain", on the other hand, was a demanding but rewarding challenge. Inspired by Baudelaire's masterpiece Les fleurs du mal, meticulously detailed and strangely atmospheric, I certainly had to work at it to make sense of it, but it was totally worth it. NSO cellist extraordinaire David Hardy assuredly impersonated the lead character around which various worlds mysteriously evolved while Matthew Halls was keeping a watchful eye over the numerous unexpected twists and turns of the tricky score. The whole experience felt like a leisurely flow of enigmatic and enthralling moments, and I could not help but think that Dutilleux, who died last month, and the NSO's very own Rostropovitch, for whom it was written, would have been pleased.
After this occasional rough but overly brilliant ride, Vaughn Williams' sprawling London Symphony went down really nice and easy. Full of sweeping Romantic élans and bright brassy outbursts, this symphony sounded to me as if the composer had tried to sound like Tchaikovsky, without the Russian master's unique gift for heart-on-your-sleeve melodies, but with a distinct touch of British flair. Even then, it is still a grand journey and the orchestra made sure to highlight all there was to like about it, of which there was plenty. It was good to be back.