Friday, June 26, 2020

Halle Aux Grains de Toulouse, 1 Place Dupuy, 31000 Toulouse, France

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

An evening with Tugan Sokhiev and L’Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse – modest social distancing, separate string desks, audience – living up to the standards that over the years have made their concerts and webcasts such a mainstay of modern French life.

Most recent in a roll-call stretching back to André Cluytens, Georges Prêtre and Michel Plasson, Sokhiev, a protégé of Musin in St Petersburg, was appointed music director in 2008. One of the most elegant conductors around, he has a strong, engaged, supportive relationship with his players: I’ve heard some exceptional performances from them under his watch – Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony and a Berlioz Requiem in particular. A charismatic, linguistically comfortable partnership.

Sokhiev isn’t a ‘period’ man, and he didn’t give us ‘period’ Mendelssohn. His Italian Symphony was muscular and relatively big-boned, with characterful brightly-tongued ‘Gallic’ woodwind to the fore, tensioned string playing, and hard kettledrums underpinning tuttis and cadence points. Antiphonal violins and violas. Dramatised dynamics and crescendos. Disciplined.

A work I’ve not been back to for some time, it emerged fresh-minted and structurally poised. No first-movement repeat (depriving us of a 22-bar transition that’s more than a primo). But a second movement of religioso eloquence, and a romantically brushed third – expansive, placed, graceful, beautiful. Virtuoso execution, delight in the brilliance of its compositional/orchestral mastery, marked the closing tarantella. Sokhiev’s manner – tight baton, expressive hands shaping entries and long-term phrases, eyes as communicative as (moderated) body language, nurturing each musician – made for watchable viewing.

Message of the night. Delivery, projection. From the off, The Hebrides – dark, oceanic, poignant. Then Ravel’s G-major Concerto – less a brittle, egg-shell reading than a virile, pianistically assertive, risk-taking ride. Time and again, adrenalin high, Bertrand Chamayou generated a spiralling, almost Beethovenian, momentum. It’s a long time since I’ve heard the outer movements signed-off quite so thrillingly, near Prokofiev-like. One had to smile at the bravado, at the thunder of the gran cassa milking the acoustic. This wasn’t just a piano bash, though. The many less-extrovert passages, the central Adagio – plenty of fantasy and delicacy, and from the orchestra too, the principals left to wonder and shimmer – were about touching dreams: dreams where phrases sang big yet with throated intimacy, the piano coaxed to speak for itself, in all its clarity and colours. Mozart, illusions of Satie, somewhere in the fabric but in 1930s’ dress and grammar.

Chamayou’s encore, Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, was similarly weighted – firm, chiselled, richly spun, without affectation.