Monday, September 18, 2023

Grand Palace Hall, Ion Câmpineanu 28, Bucharest, Romania

For the first of its two Enescu Festival evenings (Cristian Mandeal conducts the HNPO tomorrow), Charles Dutoit included the Pastorale-fantaisie by the composer eponymous to this four-week extravaganza. It opens darkly if expressively in lower strings but soon blossoms through violins and woodwinds prior to an episode that scurries edgily, becoming dramatic, then with a return to the opening material and a re-visit to agitation. Just occasionally certain aspects (harmony, the use of a cor anglais, the suggestion of countryside) reminded of Berlioz, so his Symphonie fantastique was an apt companion, a vividly contrasted performance true to the fantastic, and the observance of the first-movement repeat satisfying the symphonic. The playing was excellent and Dutoit’s involvement was palpable throughout, audibly encouraging the players, excellent in response – flexible tempos and phrasing, keen detailing, dynamics and accents, pictures painted and emotions revealed – whether a suave waltz, a ‘country scene’ with a well-judged perspective for a ripe cor anglais and the distant responding oboe (the woodwinds as a group are distinctly characterful), the movement as a whole simmering to a passionate climax and ominous (timpani) thunder, then a quick-paced ‘March to the Scaffold’ (repeat not taken) with splendid brass, emphatic rhythms and strings digging-in … the Finale emerged attacca, the Witches a garrulous and gaggling bunch, the ‘Dies irae’ adding to a party not to be gatecrashed, although the soundtrack was suitably spooky and driven to a thrilling conclusion. However many times Dutoit has conducted this opus he has lost none of his enthusiasm for it and went on to give a zesty account of the ‘Farandole’ from Bizet’s music for L’Arlésienne.

Central to the concert, Martha Argerich playing Prokofiev. She was fleet and mercurial in fast music, not always accurate, a few notes missed (her facial expressions recognised that things were not quite as she would have liked) and there were moments when piano and orchestra sounded a tad adrift. However, she didn’t compromise her trademark velocity or attack, if somewhat awkwardly at times, yet there was no lack of tenderness or a quiet touch in the middle movement. Although Dutoit is as well-placed as any conductor (and more than most) to know Argerich’s way with this work, there were suspicions that the orchestra didn’t always have the security of anticipating what she would do or that he had shared enough with its members regarding what to expect. The Finale came off best, fiery outer sections encasing a poetic one. Taking applause Argerich looked a trifle embarrassed, so cheering, a standing ovation and audience-given flowers might have offered her some compensation. As for encores, the first section of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and, following immediately, something by Bach (maybe from a Partita or a Suite) or – because of left-hand drum imitations – possibly a Scarlatti Sonata.