Leading Chopin interpreter Nelson Freire is the soloist in Chopin's lyrical and brilliant Second Piano Concerto. On the podium the young French conductor Lionel Bringuier makes his Proms debut conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and gives a sizzling performance of Roussel's Symphony no.3 and of Ravel's score for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé - Suite no 2.
French conductor Lionel Bringuier was still a month away from his 24th birthday when he hadRead more his Proms debut—and listening to the performances from that evening, it’s hard not to be blown away by his precocious talent. Or perhaps not quite “blown away.” That phrase suggests a hyperkinetic interpretive style; and while there is plenty of sheer power in the climaxes of Daphnis, what’s most conspicuous here is not a whiz-kid sensibility, but a rare sense of poise. Thus, in the Berlioz, we’re treated to an artful combination of the crisp and the supple, of rhythmic snap and lyrical indulgence, which—especially when combined with his fine ear for orchestral balance and his shrewd shaping of long-term dynamics—brings us along on a strong tide of rhetorical pressure without giving us the sense that we’re being hectored. His Roussel has a similar aplomb, revealing the music’s menacing edge without hardening its lines or brutalizing its rhythms. The dancy quality of the Vivace is especially effective. As for the Ravel: What you’re most likely to remember here is not the orgiastic conclusion, but the aching melodies of the sunrise music and the extreme subtlety of the Pantomime (listen, for instance, to the downy touch of the quieter string passages or the subtle control of the bass-line pizzicatos).
The Chopin gets a first-rate performance, too, although a slightly sober one, with the pianist clearly calling the shots. Stressing the music’s Sturm und Drang rather than its bel canto, Freire gives us a dark and intent reading, with a rich and generally bass-centered tone that, for the most part, lacks edge; the filigree, while never the slightest bit slack (much less mechanical), tends to avoid both glitter and whimsy. Thus, for all the expressiveness of his rubato, his finale doesn’t have much playfulness, much less the coltishness of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s famous early account, made during the 1955 Chopin Competition (see Fanfare 18:5). The resilience of Freire’s line is especially impressive in the recitative-like passage in the middle of the central movement. His encore performance of the once-commonplace Gluck-Sgambati is impressively cool and elegant.
Throughout the concert, the musicians seems genuinely engaged—and genuinely having a good time. Kudos, too, to the solo flute, who garners much well-justified applause after Daphnis. Any complaints? Well, poise is not an unmitigated virtue, and there are passages where the Roussel could be tougher—and places, especially in the second movement, where Bringuier could coax out more of its irony and ambiguity. Then, too, there is arguably too much control in the final pages of the Ravel. All in all, though, an impressive introduction to a striking new conductor—with vivid engineering (especially on the surround tracks, which give a wider soundstage and a greater sense of presence) and clear images. Recommended.