Berlioz’ Le Corasire opens the programme tonight, a brash and bright work. Olari Elts, tonight’s guest conductor, leads the National Symphony Orchestra through what is a lively and energetic take on Berlioz’s tale of pirates, love and grief. Subtle it ain’t, but it’s hard to deny that it is fun.
The second work of the evening is an altogether weightier affair. The reduced orchestra is joined on stage by pianist Boris Giltburg for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G. He’s not the showiest of musicians, his manner calm and reserved as he watches the orchestra at work around him. That calm approach means his piano sounds a little lost at times, the full sweep in the strings under Elts a bit too much for Giltburg’s playing of the quieter passages, though when he needs it, his playing has enough power to it to cut through clearly.
The second movement is short: its gently lyric piano lines well played, even if he is a bit too liberal with the sustain pedal, with some of the subtlety lost in a haze of overhanging tones. The Vivace third movement is a different story. Giltburg’s playing more confident and effective, he seems to have finally found his rhythm. He’s back for an encore with a short etude from Rachmaninoff, No. 2 in A minor – known as ‘The Sea and the Seagulls’, its simple take on the sounds of the sea fits right in with tonight’s programme.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage sets up two contrasting images of the sea, one the calm swell of a clear day, the other excited and alive. There’s a real warmth to the basses as they set the opening scene, before the single flute gets things in motion. As work goes on, the violas rolling figures seem to hold the whole thing together, before a flurry of activity in the percussion adds drama, a fanfare from the horns clear and bright, before the final last, sweet rising swell brings it to a close.
If there was drama to be found in what has come before, Debussy’s La Mer cranks up the tension. Sounding as fresh tonight as it ever has, the opening movement builds slowly, first the harps, then the cellos coming to the fore, as each part of the orchestra adds flourishes of colour. On the podium, Elts is more active than he’s been all night – as the unexpected blast of the coda crashes out, you can see him having fun.
The second movement builds on the sounds of the sea, harp runs rising as the horns spell out the themes. The third and final movement ties the whole thing together, the soft rumble of the percussion and gongs, as the cellos add their voice, it’s alive with vivid musical scenes. As the trumpets call the main theme, Debussy’s stormy writing is handled well by Elts and his orchestra – when it rises to a thunderous crescendo, it never feels forced. As the finale approaches, the brass are back with a final searing blast, a bright end to an uneven night.
Berlioz – Le Corasire
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G
Debussy – La Mer