I asked Classical Source why no review of this concert, given the LSO features regularly in its coverage and the turnaround for write-ups is so quick, the next day usually, and was advised that on this night no reviewer was available. Would I like to write some coverage, if I was there? Well, I was, but I am no critic, although I do go to lots of concerts, and have done so for many years, so I have tried my hand. I usually have an opinion afterwards, but it’s one thing talking to friends off the cuff and another putting pen to paper.
Debussy is a favourite composer, La mer knocked me for six back in the 1960s, so a whole concert of his music appealed, and I have become a big admirer of François-Xavier Roth. He has built a notable rapport with the LSO and this was immediately evident in Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which opened with a beguiling flute solo and went on to captivate voluptuously. It’s a remarkable piece, rather putting into the shade the Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, which rarely sounds like Debussy although there are numerous attractions and some lovely things along the way. It seems Debussy wouldn’t let the piece be played during his lifetime, so in one sense he was a good judge of its value for his name wouldn’t top my list of possible composers. Yet when a pianist of the stature of Cédric Tiberghien champions it then it’s worth a listen even if this particular piano was a bit odd-sounding in the bass. I recognised Tiberghien’s stylish encore as a Debussy Prélude, but not sure which one of the twenty-four it was!
The true – descriptive yet elusive – Debussy re-surfaced after the interval. Jeux is a ballet-score centred on a tennis match, one of the composer’s latest and greatest pieces in terms of the music, and, away from dance, so attuned to the listener’s imagination in conjuring much that is affecting and picturesque, so too the earlier and no-less characteristic Nocturnes. That Roth has both scores at his fingertips is undeniable, and the LSO was sensitive in its touch and blend, but the pieces suffered from the bright Barbican acoustic, a bit harsh in the colourful flashes of ‘Fêtes’ and not veiled enough for the ominous ‘Nuages’, nor the closing ‘Sirènes’ in which the Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus were less than alluring, if a consequence of the venue. I enjoyed the concert though and appreciated the programming and sympathetic musicianship from all concerned.