Prom 60: RPO/Dutoit at the Albert Hall, SW7
3 September 2014
How about this for an evening meal: chocolate fudge pie, cherry cheesecake, topped off with black forest gateau? A combined performance of Respighi’s Roman tone poems isn’t quite that indigestible, for the orchestra does tiptoe from time to time, but the calories and noise involved need a health warning and a conductor not afraid of the immoderate.
Enter, then, Charles Dutoit. This Swiss conductor has always dissected colourful scores with finesse, and his British orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, kept glittering even during the excesses of Roman Festivals
, the trilogy’s last and least. By placing that first in the running order, Dutoit gave the meal a handy dramatic arc: hearty first course, palate-cleanser (Fountains of Rome
) then a juicy, teeth-chomping finale (Pines of Rome
The Albert Hall is the perfect venue for Respighi at full tilt. The organ soared, the brass blared, drums hammered on our heads. The quieter phases also hit home, from the sunset reverie depicting the Villa Medici fountain to the nightingale’s song chirping so distantly against gentle strings. I’d like a decade’s gap, please, before eating the trilogy in one go again — the constitution needs time to recover — but you can’t say that the experience wasn’t memorable.
In the first half, Dutoit’s forensic skills couldn’t quite bring dancing clarity to Walton’s Sinfonia Concertante
, heard in its knottier original version. It wasn’t particularly his fault: if anything we should blame the score, a youthful jostle of racing verve, a few stale japes and a lovely sun-kissed andante. Belying the piano part’s difficulties, soloist Danny Driver tickled the ivories with an ease to match his casual attire. Some rhythmic hesitations apart, the RPO pitched in well, too, though they kept their best for the monster junket in Rome.