United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2011 (16) – Ravel: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Jonathan Nott (conductor), Usher Hall, 3.9.2011 (SRT)
Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Daphnis et Chloé (complete)
Jonathan Nott is a conductor who I have long admired, and it was a delight to see him working with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra that he has made his own for nearly twelve years now. Most British conductors who work abroad are seen as locals playing away, but Nott has made his reputation independently, first at Lucerne and then most notably at Bamberg, and under his leadership what might easily be considered a provincial German band has been elevated to the status of one of the European greats. Tellingly, he conducts with a smile on his face, suggesting that he is happy in his situation and happy with his orchestra. In fact, he is one of the surprisingly rare breed of conductors who have such an expressive way with the baton that watching him really does enrich the experience of the listener, often illuminating elements that might otherwise be lost in the overall texture.
And what a texture the Bambergers have, showcasing sparkling virtuosity at every turn in Ravel’s kaleidoscopic scores! They produced a fabulous range of colours in the Valses, ebullient at times, wonderfully seductive at others, and Daphnis et Chloé shimmered with all the impressionistic sparkle of the Belle Epoque. The opening was superbly evocative, the orchestra bright and intense, especially the violins, and it was a particular bonus having the Edinburgh Festival Chorus to hand, their brilliantly judged contribution making you question how anyone can justify performing the work with only the orchestra.
Nott shaped the great span of the score – nearly an hour – with a keen ear for rhythm and movement so that you never forgot that you were listening to a ballet, and the great climaxes, such as the Pirates’ dance or the final Bacchanale, rang with thunderous power. The orchestra also brought a great sense of scale to their playing of the concerto, but they never threatened to overwhelm the soloist. The always excellent Aimard brought a beautiful sense of phrasing to the work, colourful and delicate where he needed to be, but never brash, providing a surprisingly lyrical reading of the work, full of sensitivity. This was an outstanding end to 2011’s Edinburgh International Festival concerts, an orchestra of virtuosi led by a conductor of outstanding vision and skill.