Dazzling Dutilleux and a Magnificent Manfred from Bournemouth Symphony

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Dutilleux, TchaikovskyJean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits (conductor), The Lighthouse, Poole, 20.1.2016. (IL)

Dutilleux – Tout un monde lointain (Cello Concerto)
Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony

This was a very special concert, especially for Dutilleux fans, and more than merited BBC broadcast coverage (it was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3). Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) was the BSO’s Composer Emeritus for many years until his death.  His birthday was  on 22nd  January very close to the date of this concert.  As a celebration of the centenary of his birth this year, the BSO chose to include his Cello ConcertoTout un monde lointain (A whole distant world) inspired by Baudelaire’s poems, Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). Each of the five movements is prefaced by a quotation from these poems of fantasy and decadence. But as Kirill Karabits and Jean-Guihen Queyras pointed out in their spoken introduction to the piece, the quotations were not necessarily redolent of the music which should be appreciated for its own special sound world and vibrant colours.

The BSO delivered a dazzling and brilliantly coloured reading of this very approachable work vividly exploiting the sonority of each section and instrument of the orchestra and including, especially in the Miroirs movement, a whole battery of exotic percussion including marimba and celesta. The work was written between 1967 and 1970 and premiered by Rostropovich. Much of the soloist’s part is written in the cello’s highest register (as a tribute to Rostropovich’s marvellous tone quality at this extreme of the instrument’s range) – a quality well emulated by Queyras ably accompanied by Karabits conducting a most intelligent spatial-arranged orchestra to appreciate the very best of Dutilleux’s extraordinary sound world.

Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony was composed in 1885 between his Fourth Symphony (1877-78) and his Fifth (1888). The number of empty seats testified to a lack of enthusiasm (or little knowledge of?) this very approachable, melodic and highly exciting and dramatic work based on Byron’s intense poem.  It centres on the tormented character of Manfred introduced immediately in the first movement of the symphony.  He is first depicted in an Alpine castle. He recklessly roams the peaks, shunning the company of men to commune with the spirit world in an attempt to expiate his guilt over his illicit love for his sister Astarte.

Karabits presented Manfred as a three-dimensional character, one really sensed his guilt and despair and, contrastingly, appreciated the poignancy and sweet innocence that was Astarte. The second movement in which the Alpine Fairy appears to Manfred beneath the rainbow of the waterfall is very ballet-like. Karabits responded well enough you had a sense of the mercurial – water and sprites darting hither and thither, but I felt there might have been more of a sense of purity and daintiness for the Fairy. Manfred’s sudden sinister presence was well presented though.  The third movement, a Pastorale, is about the simple peaceful life of the mountaineers; its serenity blighted by the appearance of the restless questing of Manfred; a darkness accompanied by tolling of bells suggesting his  imminent demise. The finale, departing substantially from Byron’s narrative, depicts a subterranean bacchanal. The spirit of Astarte appears and pardons Manfred for his earthly sins before his death.   Karabits’s bacchanal is wild and exciting enough. The entry of the organ as Manfred expires suggests all is forgiven and he is borne aloft.

An excellent, very satisfying concert.

Ian Lace

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