A shocking originality runs through Emmanuel Chabrier's music. It comes across strongly from the piano, when the player has to convey its poetic nuances by struggling with two or three different kinds of touch at once. When Chabrier orchestrated four pieces into his Suite pastorale, he risked making them sound safer. But it's a strange and unsettling bit of orchestration, as Philippe Jordan's sharp-eared conducting showed at the start of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe's latest London visit.
Chabrier translated his desperately restless energy into shifting instrumental colours. Strings hand over to woodwind; a flute chips in a little scale and passes the line on; trumpets give a delicious zing with a quiet offbeat chord. There's even a new beginning, three quiet strokes on a triangle that get you listening closely.
And Jordan is the kind of conductor who makes players listen: he gives the impression that whatever he's looking at, he hears you all the time. So the balance of the orchestra was kept subtle, the phrasing beautifully assembled, the pace letting every detail register.
Much the same happened in accompanying Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. With a lesser soloist than Anne Sofie von Otter, the orchestra would have stolen the show. It was an occasion when passages that normally seem dense or overburdened were given a decisive lucidity. Von Otter's direct, sometimes severe line drew its increasingly intense expressive charge from shaping the dynamics and weight rather than colouring it, and the orchestra turned it into part of a larger whole, judging the final wind-down so breathtakingly that the audience, elsewhere free with coughs and sneezes, stayed silent for several seconds.
A similar effect happened in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, when the last chords achieved a provisional finality as though the music was meant to continue in the imagination. This was a bigger picture to paint, and detail tended to get in the way. Little roundings-off of phrases, nothing exaggerated and finely done, added up to impede momentum, especially at the easy-going speeds adopted. But the music-making remained fresh, intelligent and engaging.Reuse content