And the all-French programme was Boulez heartland, opening with Debussy's last substantial orchestral score, that creepy, crepuscular evocation of an erotic tennis match, his ballet Jeux (1913). Where latter-day conductors have tended to linger over every nuance of Debussy's glancing, insinuating continuity, Boulez pressed precisely yet firmly forward, never letting us forget that the piece is primarily for dance.
He also reminded us just how prescient Debussy's sound language is here, by programming his own early Le soleil des eaux (1950), which transmutes Debussy's aesthetic into a shimmering atonality. The soprano Elizabeth Atherton - who'd already shaped with chaste authority the medievalising lines of Debussy's late Trois ballades de Villon (1910-11), inserted by Boulez after Jeux - captured every lyrical nuance of the first of the Rene Char settings, while the BBC Singers were explosively dramatic in the second.
The second half was given over to the luxuriant vastness of Ravel's complete ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1909-12) which, replete with inimitable refinements though it may be, also seems at a stroke to invent the Hollywood sound track complete with ululating chorus some 15 years before the talkies. Here, as often with Boulez, one simply heard more in the way of clearly etched detail, whether in the frissons of the central night music or the Bacchic abandon of the final celebration.
Boulez's ease of beat now also allows his players to phrase with an amplitude scarcely predictable from the tight objectivity of his earlier years. The ovation conveyed not just gratitude for the music-making but real affection for the man.Reuse content