Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Following its brief, opening Rilke (in translation) setting, ‘Gong’,
‘Danse cosmique’ offered Barbara Hannigan greater dramatic possibilities,
well taken. The Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen provided vivid, often
pictorial playing. Singer and orchestra proved tender indeed during the
treatment of ‘solitude’ in the oddly-chosen extract from a letter from
Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn to Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya.
Hannigan’s closing repetitions of ‘toujours’ faded away nicely, as did
the orchestra. ‘Gong II’ provided something a little more labyrinthine,
even perhaps Bergian, although Pli selon pli this certainly is not.
The closing ‘De Vincent · ThÈo’ brought beguiling sonorities and, in
Hannigan’s performance, a stunning vocal climax.

Mitsuko Uchida joined the orchestra for Ravel’s G major Concerto. There
were a few occasions when I wondered whether the Philharmonia had had enough
rehearsal here, lapses in ensemble uncharacteristic for both orchestra and
conductor. Otherwise, Salonen proved general cool but not cold, even though a
little more freedom at times might not have gone amiss. Uchida’s playing was
a model of clarity, energy, an of course grace. It is all too easy to make
Mozartian comparisons here, but they did not seem especially relevant; this was
Ravel, and sounded like it. Uchida’s second-movement cantilena was
beautifully judged, a product of harmonic understanding as much as her melodic
voicing itself. Woodwind solos were exquisitely voiced, with just the right
degree of general orchestral languor. The scampering energy of the finale was
occasionally hampered by a couple more lapses in ensemble, but the ‘sense’
of the music was there, especially in Salonen’s building of tension.
Uchida’s choice of encore was inspired: the second of Schoenberg’s Six
Little Piano Pieces
, op.19, that repeated major third, G-B, making its
point of continuity.

L’Enfant et les sortilËges followed the interval. Salonen’s
tendency, especially at the start, was towards fleetness of tempo; there was
certainly no hint of sentimentality. Indeed, a keen sense of forward motion was
maintained throughout the performance. The action took place on a ‘stage’
surrounding the stage proper, a resourceful semi-staging giving all that we
really needed, not least thanks to imaginative animation (for instance, the
confusion of the clock) and atmospheric lighting. There was great character and
chemistry to be experienced between the singers, FranÁois Piolino often
stealing the show, whether by himself or in his interactions with others.
ChloÈ Briot presented a convincingly boyish Child, never forgetting – nor
did the performers as a whole – that this is not really a children’s opera
at all, but an opera about that most adult of preoccupations, childhood.
Hannigan, when she reappeared, now as the Princess, was very much a woman in a
man’s creation of a supposed child’s world. Scenes were very sharply
defined as almost self-contained units; Salonen seemed, at least to my ears, to
perceive Ravel’s opera almost as a cinematic dream-sequence. Certain figures
reminded us of the sound-world of the piano concerto, but there was no
mistaking the heady atmosphere of the night.

Mark Berry

Programme and performers:

Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ravel: Correspondances; Piano
Concerto in G major; L’Enfant et les SortilËges. Barbara Hannigan
(soprano, Princess);Dame Mitsuko Uchida (piano);ChloÈ Briot (Child); Elodie
MÈchain: Mother, Chinese Cup, Dragonfly;Andrea Hill: Louis XV Armchair,
Shepherd, White Cat, Squirrel; Omo Bello: Shepherdess, Bat, Owl;Sabine
Devieilhe: Fire, Nightingale;Jean-SÈbastien Bou: Grandfather Clock;FranÁois
Piolino: Teapot, Arithmetic, Frog; Nicola Courjal: Armchair, Tree.Director:
Irina Brown; Movement: Quinny Sacks; Designs: Ruth Sutcliffe; Lighting: Kevin
Treacy; Video: Louis Price. Philharmonia Voices (director: Aidan
Oliver)/Philharmonia Orchestra /Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor). Royal Festival
Hall, London, Thursday 12 February 2015.

image_description=Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Raphael Brand]
product_title=Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Raphael Brand]