Friday, December 10, 2021

Estonia Concert Hall, Estonian Avenue 4, 10148 Tallinn, Estonia

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Originally Le Chant de l’amour triomphant (after the 1881 Renaissance novella by Turgenev), Chausson’s Poème dates from 1896. He wrote it for Ysaÿe – whose 1892 Poème élégiaque provided the model, and who gave the first (semi-private) performance in the recently opened Salle Poirel, Nancy, conducted by Joseph-Guy Ropartz. December 27, 1897. A little noticed occasion. Despite its programmatic suggestiveness, “there is no description”, Chausson maintained, “no story, nothing but sensation.” Debussy was an admirer. “The Poème contains all its composer’s best qualities. The freedom of its form never hinders harmonious proportion. Nothing touches more with dreamy sweetness than its [E-flat] conclusion, where the music becomes the very feeling which inspired its emotion. These are very rare instances in the works of an artist” (Société Indépendante de Musique, January 15, 1913). The score was published by Breitkopf & Härtel, paid for by Albéniz.

1996. Autumn equinox. Immersed for a week in the Salle Poirel’s acoustic, producing a Chausson album with Jérôme Kaltenbach (Naxos 8.553652). In attendance the legendary Yves Riesel – l’homme de musique et d’opinion – fine gastronomy and good wines assured. If the sessions were interesting, post-production back in Bedford was even more so. Our lauded soloist, Laurent Korcia – a wiry, swarthy thirty-something Frenchman of strong temperament and determination – had firm ideas about what he wanted to do with the Poème, whatever the cost in personal effort or time. My view of the music favoured layers of lyricism and softness. His opted for declamation and macho lines. It was an instructive lesson in how changing a few phrases, notes or intonations, tightening the timing here and there, seeing cadences as points of terse punctuation rather than places to possibly linger or round-off events, could change the character of a work so radically. Whereas our initial edit bathed the piece in pre-Raphaelite glow, the final production master was an altogether harder, more belligerent experience. I was (still am) regretful that in the end too many beautiful moments ended up on the cutting-room floor, that furrowed intensity prevailed when, aesthetically, it might profitably have been tempered.

Readers of Colin’s Column will know my regard for the Estonian violinist Triin Ruubel, since April 2015 concertmaster of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Modernist, Romantic and Classicist in one, her selfless contribution to Paavo Järvi’s annual Pärnu Music Festival – as Concerto soloist, chamber player, coach, and co-leader of the Estonian Festival Orchestra – is nothing if not admirable. Watching her unfold the Poème is to hear a musician honouring the composer first, a graciously cultured artist of elegant bow control for whom beauty of tone (she plays a 2015 Andreas Hudelmayer instrument), impeccable articulation and note production, and a demeanour free of exaggeration or artifice are absolute priorities. She paints the pages in greens and golds, shadows and sunbeams, tensioned but not stressed, the hall shrouded in veils of blue and cerise light. Melodies sigh and soar, fade and farewell. Intimate phrasing, intimate concentration. Fifteen minutes of “dreamy sweetness”. Under its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Olari Elts, formerly Principal Guest of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra during the interim following the Joseph Swensen years, the ENSO – celebrating its ninety-fifth anniversary – brings refined ensemble and interaction to proceedings. Ravishingly tender.

Berliner Philharmoniker – Tugan Sokhiev conducts Chausson’s Symphony, Nikolai Lugansky plays Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto [live webcast]