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Press Reviews
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Sparkling Poulenc and Ravel with Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic
18 February 2014
Perhaps the biggest revelation of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit’s concert of Poulenc’s Gloria and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was how much Poulenc (and by extension most of 20th-century French music) owes to Ravel. It is an admittedly rather obvious connection, but one that was made very clear indeed by programming these two pieces side by side.

While they on the surface seem quite different – Daphnis et Chloé an intoxicating, swelling ocean of sound and Gloria a much more angular and at times eccentric piece, draped in purple harmonies – the similarities were at times startling. Programming the Gloria as the first piece perhaps made the connection less apparent, but I left the Royal Festival Hall noticing ever more Ravelian touches in Poulenc’s score.

Poulenc’s Gloria was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation and premiered in 1961. It is in six movements, ranging from the fanfare-like to the deeply spiritual. The RPO especially excelled in the faster, more joyful movements; the brass shone in the opening fanfare, and the trombone solos introducing the second movement were nothing short of excellent. The Chorus impressed with some very good diction, especially in the first movements, every word being discernible, not a small feat considering Poulenc’s occasionally eccentric setting of Latin. The singing was generally excellent, especially in the concluding Qui sedes, with some particularly fine singing from the men of the Philharmonia Chorus.

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Mozart's Requiem (Royal & Derngate, Northampton)
Northamptonshire Telegraph
17 February 2014
One composer to have come up with more famous classical themes than perhaps any other is Mozart.

And it was with great joy that I dropped in to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate yesterday to see two of his best-known works performed.

In the first section of the concert, Alexandra Dariescu took on the challenging piano part in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, accompanying the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

This piece leaves all pianists thoroughly exposed. Here lie no messy chords or pages of multi-layered musical text to hide behind. The tune is simply and often taken by the pianist’s left or right hand, interspersed by pure, quick-fire runs up and down the keyboard.

Add to this the fact that the power of Mozart’s music needs to be conveyed with a feather-light touch, and this is no easy piece to play. But Alexandra managed to use her skill to beautifully accentuate the strength of Mozart’s themes, while holding off on any unwarranted keyboard bashing; the sign of a really great player with a true understanding of Mozart’s work.

The Orchestra also played their part well, picking up themes sensitively and subtly, while not overshadowing or drowning out the central star of the show, the piano.

I really enjoyed the piece and the performance was well matched in the second half by a rendition of Mozart’s Requiem, by the Northampton Bach Choir and The Boys and Men of All Saints’ Church, Northampton, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Carrying the solo sections were the excellent soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn, mezzo soprano Kitty Whately, tenor Anthony Gregory and baritone David Stout.

This famously unfinished piece, the last Mozart ever wrote, is one of the composer’s most magnificent. I personally would have liked to have heard, at times, even more power coming through in the voices of the lower sections of the choir, but overall it was a fine performance of a truly intense and poignant work.

A wonderful celebration of one of the world’s greatest composers, I would recommend music-lovers take any opportunity they can to see Alexandra in action at the piano, she really is a noteworthy musical talent.
RPO/Dutoit, Festival Hall
The Times
14 February 2014
Catholic fervency acquires an urban, mercantile tang in Poulenc's Gloria. Its grand opening chords suggest the raising of shutters on a vast department store, its rhythms the click of heels on a busy pavement, its fast boiling viola trills and sharp woodwind chords the blur of gridlocked traffic. "I had in mind those Gozzoli frescoes with angels sticking out of their tongues," the composer explained. Yet the staccato voices of praise sound more commercial than celestial in their bright excitement: God is open for business.

At 77 years old, conductor Charles Dutoit has lost none of his suavity, dancing (albeit from the knees up) on the podium. Many a younger man would envy his physical fluency, the calligraphic loops and curves with which he describes a phrase, though his smooth direction of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia Chorus could not elevate this electric-lit, plate-glass work. That job was left to soprano Nicole Cabell - the still, serious centre amid the bustle, dazzle and multiple echoes of songs that Poulenc wrote 20 years earlier, Fêtes galantes and Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon - her voice gleaming and ardent.

In any case, the Gloria was merely a warm-up for Daphnis et Chloé. Rarely played complete, Ravel's shimmering ballet score vacillates between hard-body athleticism and diaphanous swooning, the final "Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!" of the chorus the longest and most laboriously achieved climax in musical history. Contributions from cellist Tim Gill, violist Fiona Winning, flautist Karen Jones and trumpeter Bo Fuglsang were outstanding. Odd that such a scrupulous composer could lavish so much detail on a work of such vulgarity. But no odder than a devout Catholic writing a Gloria that sounds like a paean to Bon Marché.
Cabell, RPO, Dutoit, Royal Festival Hall
The Arts Desk
13 February 2014
Finely crafted Ravel and Poulenc from the French-Swiss master conductor.

This was the first of three Royal Festival Hall concerts during the first half of 2014 from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and its principal conductor Charles Dutoit, all three programmes consisting entirely of French music. The other two will be in May. In between the Swiss-born conductor, a sprightly 77-year-old, will have picked up a Lifetime Achievement gong at the International Classical Music Awards in Warsaw.

The relationship between the RPO and Dutoit seems to work well, not least because the repertoire he is working with them on is abolutely his home territory. These were the works which, as a student, he had witnessed Ernest Ansermet conducting. They are what established Dutoit's reputation in his key years as principal conductor in Montreal, admittedly a far more hands-on role than that which he has at the RPO. And among the recorded achievements of his Montreal years, there is none finer than his sonically spectacular and finely-crafted 1980 Decca recording of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé.

Dutoit's Daphnis unfolds in a careful, organic way. It has purpose and direction. The ebb and flow is controlled. If the piece can present problems of balance between sections, or between the wordless choir and the orchestra, to my ears these all appeared resolved. Instruments which might get submerged, like the alto flute with its big moment in the second tableau, sounded crisp and clear. The huge, very solistic principal flute part was taken very convincingly indeed by Karen Jones. But in general the RPO with Dutoit at the helm work at doing justice to the music as an ensemble, rather than making their individual mark as soloists.

The Orchestra has a horn section of quiet craftsmen, a wonderfully led and unanimous bass section. This was an ordered, honest, totally musical performance. Rather than letting it make an edge-of-the-seat London sound, Dutoit, paradoxically has the RPO – which probably has more Brits in it than the other London orchestras – as well-rehearsed and groomed as a continental orchestra. I suspect this quality, the joyous sounds, those inescapable Ravel ear-worms, will all come across very well in the radio broadcast.

The first half of the concert was Poulenc's 1961 Gloria, commissioned by Koussevitzky for Boston in 1961, with Chicago-born soprano Nicole Cabell as soloist. There is no disguising the fact that there are parts of this work which simply chug along mechanically. As the Gloria progresses, there are some enchanting explorations of of bitonality and polytonality, which Dutoit elicited superbly from the orchestra; Cabell brought the right kind of soulfulness and crystalline high notes to the closing stages of the piece, but it is not a work for which I can ever imagine summoning up much affection.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Dutoit – Poulenc’s Gloria & Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé [Nicole Cabell; Philharmonia Chorus]
Classical Source
13 February 2014
Francis Poulenc completed his Gloria in 1959, writing it in honour of Mr and Mrs Koussevitzky, the Boston connection maintained with the first performance being there, in 1961, under Charles Munch. It was then rushed into EMI’s Paris studios to be recorded, Georges Prêtre conducting, the composer in attendance, one of his last rites, for he died in January 1963 at the age of 64. It is delicious music, compact, acerbic, but with a ready wit, dancing rhythms and bittersweet lyricism, nearly secular save for a nod to monkish plainsong and sanctified reflection. Charles Dutoit led the six movements without pause, obtaining a crisp and sensitive response from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (he’s its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor), relishing this upbeat, twinkle-in-the-eye and ravishing music. Nicole Cabell was as radiant and as earthy as necessary, and the Philharmonia Chorus, powerfully communicative, vibrant, and very together, continued its renaissance under the preparatory guidance of the estimable Stefan Bevier.

The complete score for Daphnis and Chloe can have its longueurs. Not here in this beautifully prepared and executed outing, full of Grecian promise from the off, and which fully satisfied Ravel’s choreographic and symphonic ambitions. Finely judged though most aspects were, there was a case for now having fewer members of the Chorus, sitting for less loudness, or even placing them offstage, heard but not seen, for their (word-less) contribution, however secure, tended to be too immediate and overpowering, and the RPO’s trombones could be somewhat blaring. Overall though this was a compelling performance, elegantly, incisively and thrillingly sculptured by the 77-year-old athletic Dutoit (mostly with a baton, sometimes with a shimmy), slow-burning without losing tension, incident-packed, descriptive and, when required, exciting – the ‘Danse guerrière’ a nifty number indeed (although better if the Pirates had not kidnapped Chloe but absconded with the obnoxious whisperer and paper-rustler who intruded into the music from time to time) and the final ‘Danse générale’ was a suitably hedonistic bacchanal, the lusty Chorus now coming into its own. In what was a seductive, picture-painting and dynamic reading, the strings rich, the solos charismatic (not least from flautist Karen Jones), and the whole orchestra focussed and dedicated, an expansive 58 minutes seemed rather shorter. The French have a word for it: Splendide.
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