Thursday, October 29, 2020

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Opening his final season as the Philharmonia’s principal conductor (he’s off to the San Francisco Symphony), for this no-audience/without-interval concert Esa-Pekka Salonen chose Ravel fore and aft – first a pastel-shaded, expressive and tender Pavane pour une infante défunte, finally a magical account of the equally magical Mother Goose score, complete, played with sensitivity, deftness and eloquence, a storybook account, characters and images vividly drawn while remaining within Ravel’s refined aesthetic. As centrepiece, Britten’s setting of Rimbaud’s French, Les Illuminations, which found American soprano Julia Bullock in committed and dramatic form, confidently operatic at times, enough to make the Philharmonia’s strings (no doubt a few desks short anyway) sound a tad thin – no fault of the relay, which was admirably balanced – and if she didn’t always fully explore the interior nature of Britten’s ingenious music she did sport an attractive/distinctive ‘whiteness’ of tone.

Concert played again tomorrow, Friday October 30, at Snape Maltings Concert Hall at 3pm and 7pm