United Kingdom Ravel, Tchaikovsky, de Falla. Giovanni Sollima (cello), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor), Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 26.4.2015 (RB)
Maurice Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra
Maurice Ravel: Alborado del gracioso
Manuel de Falla: Suite, The Three Cornered Hat
Maurice Ravel: Boléro
This well judged and artfully structured afternoon concert was the sequel to last Thursday’s RLPO debut for Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. The music builds from nostalgia through to eruptive display and does so while interpolating Tchaikovsky and de Falla among three Ravel pieces. There were two other linkages with Thursday’s concert. The RLPO artist-in-residence, cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima here took the solo in the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations – definitely Tchaikovsky in affable rather than passionate mode. The de Falla suite was repeated from Thursday evening.
Relaxation was in the air with audience members waving to friends in the orchestra and the friends waving back. The conductor also took a less formal line with an open collar to match his easy-going confidence. A telling Valses nobles et sentimentales immediately set a high tone for the whole concert. There was none of the coolness I had detected in Rapsodie Espagnole on Thursday. Here is a world class orchestra on its best form with both solo and section work sweetly adroit. The allusive debt owed to Ravel by Stephen Sondheim and his orchestrator Jonathan Tunick in A Little Night Music came home to me several times. Giovanni Sollima then took the stage for the Rococo Variations. This performance echoed with sensitive concentrated delicacy and winged passion. Although there are some big moments this is one of Tchaikovskys’s introspective scores more akin to The Nutcracker dances and Mozartiana. It seems typical of Sollima that the witty solo encore – again I could not catch what it was — should be distinguished by the cellist at one point handing his bow to the Leader ready for a page of breathtaking pizzicato. He then deftly took it back for some more bowed pages and then gripped the bow in his teeth for another piece of woodily plucked extravagance. This was breath-taking stuff yet with delightful musical substance. Those final zinging harmonics skittered by in a splendid blur.
The Ravel Alborada impressed again with its very finely rendered quiet writing and playing. The first bassoon made a memorable impression as he would again in the de Falla which was repeated with just as much élan and excitement as for Thursday. The concert ended with the oft-scorned Boléro. Prieto placed his snare-drummer on a shallow centrally placed dais on the same level as the strings but at the back of the stage just in front of the woodwind rank. The performance had nothing tired or care-worn about it. Prieto’s meticulous precision balanced with suspense delivered a well contoured and tensile performance. Seeing the gradual movement of the mandolin style pizzicato of the strings swept away section by section, left to right, switching to bowed playing added to the musical theatre of the experience. The symmetry offered by the Ravel aspect of the programme was emphasised by the Boléro allusions in the Valses Nobles et Sentimentale.
The whole concert was very warmly received indeed. We can surely expect Prieto to be invited back. Other orchestra managements would do well to watch this conductor. Let’s hope that his future assured successes do not close the door on more Mexican orchestral music in his concert programmes.