Dutilleux and Tchaikovsky at white heat in the Lighthouse

REVS QueyrasDutilleux: Tout un monde lontain
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Jean-Guihen Queyras: Cello

THIS year the centenary of the French composer Henri Dutilleux is being commemorated in a series of events on Radio 3, and this concert was the BSO’s contribution. Dutilleux died three years ago at a ripe old age: Friday 22nd January would have been his hundredth birthday. He was the BSO’s composer in residence for many years so it was particularly appropriate for the orchestra to be involved in the celebrations. Dutilleux’s music resists categorisation: he forged his own voice from a plethora of influences.

‘Tout un monde lontain…’ (A whole distant world…’) is a cello concerto in all but name, commissioned by the Russian cellist Rostropovich in the 1960’s. A bit over twenty-five minutes long, it is mysterious and dreamlike, with five movements, played continuously. Each movement is prefaced with a quotation from the poet Baudelaire, giving a clue to the atmosphere and emotional landscape of the music. For example, the ‘extremely calm’ second movement’s lyricism has a sinister undertow confirmed by the quotation:

“… the poison that flows
from your eyes, from your green eyes,
lakes in which my soul trembles and sees itself upside down”
The French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and Karabits introduced the work informally to the audience. Queyras, who had known Dutilleux personally, described him as ‘the most charming and civilized man I have ever met’. Both men, wisely realising that for many of the audience this would be the first and probably only time they would hear the piece, recommended not worrying too much about the structure, but concentrating on the ‘poetic possibilities’ of the ‘colours and moods’. It was a mesmerically beautiful piece in performance, with the large orchestra, including five percussionists, celeste and harp, weaving gorgeous and ever-shifting sounds around Queyras’s fine-toned cello.
After the interval we were treated to another rarity: Tchaikovsky’s somewhat neglected ‘Manfred’ Symphony. It was composed between the better-known 4th and 5th symphonies in 1884. This hour-long four-movement work is, like Berlioz’s ‘Harold in Italy’, based on a character created by Byron. Manfred is the classic Byronic romantic outsider. In the first movements he wanders aimlessly though the Alps, tormented by memories of his incestuous relationship with his sister Astarte. In the second, a scherzo, he encounters an Alpine fairy at a waterfall. The third sees Manfred continuing his rural wanderings and in the last movement he enters the palace of the Prince of the Underworld.
Karabits and the orchestra delivered a blisteringly impassioned performance, maintaining the intensity through the almost hour-long symphony. It is challenging stuff, with many demanding solo passages, all delivered with aplomb. I cannot imagine a more persuasive and compelling account, and to judge by their reactions, neither could anyone in the audience.
Full marks to the BSO for boldly programming two impressive and less often played works together, and playing both with such passion and professionalism. It’s hard to know whether to celebrate the fact that the hall was three-quarters full or to regret that it was a quarter empty.


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