Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Daphnis et Chloé without a chorus, seemingly. Rhapsody in Blue without swing (so that it didn’t mean a thing). Danny Elfman steals the show.

Although Ravel allowed for no vocalise being available in Daphnis (he distributed the wordless element into the orchestra for such occasions), its exclusion does remove a significant aspect from the complete score. But we did get an unadvertised choir (members of the NYO not required to play at such moments, although this meant some singing couldn’t happen) as part of an impressive performance, slow-burn from Andrew Gourlay, well-detailed, too, considering this was an ensemble of one-hundred-and-fifty personnel, if more scenic than Ravel’s “choreographic symphony” might dictate. Notable solo contributions, such as horn in the stratosphere, or an exquisite flute in the ‘Pantomime’ section. The pirates were a little subdued, however, although ‘Dawn’ was voluptuous, and the final ‘general dance’, albeit sans choeur, issued an invitation to party.

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (using one of Ferde Grofé’s symphony scorings; he also did band-leader Paul Whiteman’s arrangements when the composer was the soloist to launch the work in 1924, and another jazz version two years later) didn’t quite come off, not so much stiff as overthought, zestier from the NYO (including a confident and sassy opening clarinet solo) than from Simone Dinnerstein (who rather deliberated); this is one of those pieces that needs to appear improvised, of the moment, rather than studied and leaden. There was an encore, something based on Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ (for piano and NYO, the arranger’s name missed), yet so contrived and multi-layered as to lose sight of its song inspiration.

To open, the London premiere of Danny Elfman’s twenty-minute Wunderkammer, colourful and suggestive, proved enjoyable in a filmic sort of way (not surprising from the composer for Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and other cinematic hits, as well as The Simpsons on TV), a concert score that is descriptive of whatever comes to mind and is strong enough to be appreciated as music for music’s sake – and also including a vocal element – full of virtuoso writing, played brilliantly, with a reflective, rather sad middle section before the carnival of the conclusion, with again lots of activity, variegation, and plenty of technical challenges, which were met head-on and victory seized.