Symphonic Dances: I

Thursday 24 September 2009 at 7.30PM

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Charlotte Hellekant  mezzo-soprano

Ravel: La Valse 13′
Berlioz: Les Nuits d’Été 32′
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances 35′

It may be his last work, but Rachmaninov’s orchestral showpiece is bursting with energy and great melodies, a tribute to the glamour of Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra. Ravel was also fascinated by recreating dance forms in his orchestral music, and his 1920 ballet La Valse is the most extreme example, the point at which the old Viennese waltz eats itself. Ravel’s love of orchestral colour owes a huge debt to Berlioz, whose beautiful song-cycle is sung by one of today’s leading mezzos.


Another wonderful concert from the CBSO. It was lovely to hear Andris’ thoughts on the music to come, and just nice that he chats with the audience, sort of makes you feel included, as though the audience presence is a part of the evening, the music, and not just incidental. I like Ravel’s La Valse, a waltz that is sort of collapsing in on itself, rich in emotion, with underlying familiar rhythms. The orchestra certainly brought out all the turbulent layers, so that I felt swept along and under it all in a way that never quite happens when listening to the CD!

I wasn’t familiar with Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été having just listened to it on Naxos a couple of times a few days before the concert. It is a collection of poems sung by a mezzo-soprano, with a fairly large but subdued orchestra. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Charlotte Hellekant (in a silk yellow gold dress that was like a shot of autumn sunshine on the stage) has a beautiful warm tone to her voice and acted out the words so it wasn’t a mere sing-along or technical performance but a communication and sharing. The orchestral accompaniment was sympathetic and brought out the shades, sadness and vulnerabilities in the poems. Quite lovely, and I’m not (yet) a big fan of opera singing!

I love Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and the CBSO with Andris Nelsons really gave a beautiful rendition tonight, with much poignancy. However energetic and dramatic Andris may be, he also manages to coax out the multi-faceted emotions, aching beauty and vulnerability of a piece, so that you feel taken on such a wonderful musical journey. The CBSO is full of truly talented and amazing musicians and all credit to them for finding and inviting Maestro Nelsons to join them, and for being brave enough to go where he may take them in the wonderful world of music.