The witching hour arrived long before the finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The amazing Gustavo Dudamel made something uncommonly spooky of the opening of Ravel's La Valse, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's worming bass woodwinds curdling the harmonies in the most furtive ways imaginable. From my seat in the Albert Hall, it was almost impossible to make out the tune from the harmonies, so subversive were they. But when the waltz did take hold, Dudamel's technical assurance in shaping the sweep and swoon of it was almost as impressive as its final disintegration was shocking.
There was more from the spookhouse in Anders Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto (Peacock Tales) and given its extremely visual nature I'm amazed the TV cameras were absent. Martin Fröst isn't just a knock-out clarinettist, he's an accomplished mime, too. Masked and unmasked like some capricious imp, he balletically twitched and twirled his way through the piece as though he were there both to play and to sabotage it. His clarinet was brandished like an additional limb emitting banshee-like pyrotechnics on a zillion glissandi. On a couple of occasions, Fröst's Petrushka-like alter ego blocked his ears in protest. I can't say I blamed him. Without the performance element, musical interest would never have sustained 30 minutes.
The hallucinations continued into Dudamel's intoxicating account of the Symphonie Fantastique. He saw to it that this astonishing piece of orchestral wizardry played on all our senses. Dudamel is something of a sorcerer's apprentice with his diminutive frame and seemingly oversized tails, and the way he works an orchestra and an audience is simply irresistible. The heady lyricism and neurotic nature of the piece, the dreams and nightmares, were beautifully counterbalanced, but when the ghouls came out for the "witches' sabbath" Dudamel and his Gothenburgers went for broke. I've heard some hectic tempi in this movement, but two tubas bellowing "Dies irae" clearly put the fear of bejesus into that orgiastic coda. As for the massive midnight bells, the orchestra must have pinched those from the bell tower of their town hall.
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