BBC SO/Muraro/Cambreling, Barbican, London
Monday 28 March 2005
This concert, planned and directed by the distinguished French conductor Sylvain Cambreling, purported to marry together 200 years of French music, from Rameau to Messiaen - the somewhat tenuous link being that the Rameau was being heard in an intervening, 19th-century arrangement.
This concert, planned and directed by the distinguished French conductor Sylvain Cambreling, purported to marry together 200 years of French music, from Rameau to Messiaen - the somewhat tenuous link being that the Rameau was being heard in an intervening, 19th-century arrangement. Well, maybe, but what was more salient to a select, but enthusiastic, Barbican audience, and doubtless to Radio 3 listeners, was that this proved an engaging programme in itself.
Rameau composed his opera Castor et Pollux in 1737, and in 1880, the Belgian musicologist Francois-Auguste Gevaert published a seven-movement suite comprising its overture, five dances and Chaconne, as part of an enterprise to re-establish Rameau as a source-figure of "Frenchness" in music.
In doing so, Gevaert added extra horns here, the extra counterpoint there and realised Rameau's decorations somewhat oddly. And perhaps the balletic Cambreling stirred the mix still more by articulating the results according to crisp 20th-century notions of "authenticity" - one suspected Gevaert would have expected a smoother, more prettified approach. But Rameau's piquant harmonies and tricky syncopations came over the more richly as a result.
Messiaen's earliest orchestral masterpiece L'Ascension - four symphonic meditations (1932-33), which rounded off the programme, is also an extraordinary mix. Its opening paean for brass evoking the Majesty of Christ, and the yearning aspirations for strings of its concluding Prayer of Christ Rising to His Father, throb with Messiaen's unmistakably personal polymodality.
Yet the intervening movements often sound more like off-cuts from Debussy's Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien or - in the fugal dervish-dance that concludes the third movement - some exotic, lost, late ballet by Messiaen's teacher, Dukas. The occasional brass fluff in the fiendishly exposed opening litanies notwithstanding, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave Cambreling its fervent all.
And between these items, the French pianist Roger Muraro - a gangling presence not without a touch of Jacques Tati about him, as a colleague remarked - appeared to give what was apparently the most radical departure in Messiaen's career. After his early eclecticism and a brief flirtation with serialism around 1950, he reappeared in 1953 with Réveil des oiseaux, a score made up of transcriptions of French birdsong.
The score comprises an obsessive piano Toccata of avian figuration, periodically evoking dawn choruses in up to 20 twittering parts. The whole sound is effervescent. Muraro rippled off the endlessly tricky solo part with the aplomb one would expect from a pupil of Messiaen's second wife, the great pianist Yvonne Loriod, while the orchestra characterised their blackbirds and garden warblers with gleeful joy.
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