PROM 15: A Stunning Daphnis et Chloé





United KingdomUnited Kingdom Prom 15. Jonathan Dove, Mozart, Ravel Ingrid Fliter (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Josep Pons (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 28.7.2014 (RB)

Jonathan Dove – Gaia Theory (2013-14) (world première)
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major K488
Ravel – Daphnis et Chloé


Harmony in the natural world was the underlying theme uniting the three works in this Prom.  The first of the works was a BBC commission Jonathan Dove, receiving its first performance, which was inspired by the composer’s voyage to the Arctic and draws on the ideas of James Lovelock for inspiration.  Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloéwas commissioned as a ballet by Diaghilev in 1909 and is inspired by a pastoral romance by the second-Century Greek Poet Longus.  Mozart’s A Major piano concerto has no overt connection to the natural world but it attains a state of formal perfection that hints at the underlying harmony of all creation.

James Lovelock asserts that the Earth behaves as a self-regulating organism that maintains the surface conditions on the planet which are favourable to life.  In an interview in 2000, he said:  “Evolution is a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners.  From the dance emerges the entity Gaia”.  Jonathan Dove’s new work Gaia Theory draws on these ideas and explores what would happen if Lovelock’s dance were to spin out of control.  Gaia Theory is in three movements marked Lively, Very Spacious and Dancing and it follows in the mould of John Adams’ works.  The first movement started off with atomised fragments of sound in the woodwind (the idea of micro-organisms, perhaps) and there was a gradual build-up of texture and colour using the full resources of the orchestra.  There were intricate rhythmic figurations and some elfin-like textures that seemed to suggest a Mendelssohnian scherzo.  The continually changing textures and sonorities suggested the rich diversity of the natural world.

The second movement started off with some veiled harmonies in strings and woodwind who were then joined by the brass.  The movement created a wonderful feeling of space and timelessness and reminded me of some of Holst’s slow movements.  The final movement had a succession of continually changing rhythmic patterns that were well handled by Pons and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and it ended on a note of visceral excitement as the dance spins out of control (shades of Ravel’s La Valse here, perhaps).  I thought it was a great piece and I hope it enters the mainstream repertoire before too long.

Ingrid Fliter joined Pons and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s A Major concerto.  The opening tutti was played with stylish Classical decorum and restraint – there was very little vibrato in the strings and phrases were nicely shaded.  Fliter adopted a robust approach to the passage-work in the opening movement – a good decision, as it meant she was able to give the concerto weight and depth and to project well although the tone was occasionally a little hard.  Bravo to Fliter for treating the second movement as a proper Adagio – she gave the movement tragic depth and pathos and played with a wonderful range of colour.  Her articulation of the left hand figurations in the middle section and her dialogue with the woodwind were delightful.  There was a memory slip towards the end of the movement which momentarily threw her orchestral partners out of sync but everyone succeeded in recovering well.  She took the sprightly finale at quite a pace (the woodwind were scurrying to keep up with her!) and she brought a wonderful sense of warmth and playful exhilaration to the movement.  This was a strong Proms début from Fliter and I hope we will be seeing more of her at these concerts.

The final work on the programme and the highlight of the evening was Ravel’s great choreographic symphony in three parts, Daphnis et Chloé.  I loved the sensuality and perfumed eroticism of the opening section and the wonderful blend of colours and light textures Pons achieved with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  The orchestral entries were razor-sharp and the phrasing was very supple and had an organic feel.  The a cappella chorus was well handled at the start of Part 2 before the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave us some primitive and highly animated rhythms in the War Dance.  Ravel’s evocation of the Dawn in Part 3 is one of the miracles of 20th Century music and it here received a stunning performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra with flutes and clarinets creating rippling undercurrents, bass instruments giving us a gradual, life affirming sunrise and strings and flutes bringing vividly to life the Dawn Chorus.  Flutes and piccolos handled the virtuoso writing of the penultimate dance with aplomb.  The final General Dance was allowed to build in excitement into a joyous bacchanal before the final climax.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable concert concluding with a stunning performance of Daphnis et Chloé.

 Robert Beattie

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