Chung, French orchestra offer luminous immersion in Ravel

Sat Mar 06, 2010 at 8:53 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Chicago music lovers who savor the full-immersion experience faced some delectable choices over the weekend.

There was “Beyond Flamenco,” a three-day focus on the music of Spain offered at Mandel Hall by University of Chicago Presents. And on Friday the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Myung-Whun Chung appeared at Symphony Center in an all-Ravel program with Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.

With his 1928 ballet, Bolero, Ravel, who was born in the Basque region of France, contributed greatly to the popular perception of Spain as a land of hot blood and stamping feet. There was no lack of passion at the French Radio Orchestra’s concert, and music for the dance predominated. The repertoire included a sampler of Ravel’s best-loved works: the complete Mother Goose ballet, La valse and Suites 1 and 2 from the ballet Daphnis and Chloe in addition to the three songs from Sheherazade.

But, stereotypes were largely banished. The French orchestra’s performance was subtle and sophisticated, its passion rooted in highly nuanced phrasing and superbly polished technique. Music director of the French Radio orchestra since 2000, Chung demanded much from his highly responsive ensemble. Their overall sound combined transparency with full-bodied heft. There was no exaggerated swooning in the Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty section of the Mother Goose ballet or the Nocturne of the rarely heard Suite No. 1 from Daphnis and Chloe.

But their playing had a soft, beautifully sculpted edge. The horns in the opening bars of the Mother Goose prelude had a velvety quality. Their playing was restless and expectant, but seductively gentle on the ear.

Throughout the evening, Magali Mosnier, the orchestra’s principal flute was simply stunning. Her golden-toned, flexible, technically dazzling playing enlivened every piece on the program. As von Otter’s partner in “The Enchanted Flute” from Sheherazade, she added an air of languor and unpredictability to the introspective song.

In these three, highly perfumed songs, von Otter blended seamlessly with the orchestra. Delving deeply into the intensely intimate poetry, she seemed to settle into the orchestral ebb and flow rather than pushing herself forward to ride its crest. It was the rapt stillness of her performance that drew us in.

The two suites from Daphnis and Chloe were superb. In the more familiar Suite No. 2, all the color and excitement of a new day were present in the opening “Dawn” section. But nothing was blaring or blatant. Chung and his players may or may not be fans of modernist architecture, but less was definitely more at Symphony Center Friday night.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chung, French orchestra offer luminous immersion in Ravel”

  1. Posted Mar 07, 2010 at 11:16 am by Gail Schechter

    This was indeed an unforgettable evening of Ravel. This orchestra’s enitre wind section has a subtle, delicate sound, one which I have never before heard. And you are correct to single out the flute player, who was exquisite. I wish I could hear more of this playing live in Chicago.

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