by Rachel Beaumont

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Debussyed out: Debussy with François-Xavier Roth and the LSO

Music by Debussy
François-Xavier Roth, Cédric Tiberghien and London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Hall
Stalls Q25, complimentary (thanks, Richard)
25 January 2018
Barbican page

Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Debussy Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
Debussy Jeux
Debussy Three Nocturnes

I’m not sure I approve of concert programmes that programme just one composer. Rather, I’m sure I don’t approve. I’ll believe there are examples where it works – Schubert, perhaps – but more often than not you sacrifice the juxtaposition and illumination that can make programming a complete delight, in return for what? So you you can say you’ve really celebrated a composer’s centenary?

Ah well. Moan over. I’ve been enamoured with Roth since, like everyone else I know, seeing his French dance music prom a few years ago, a fantastic programme (cool it, cool it) ranging from Lully to Stravinsky, all performed with almighty precision and characterful intensity by his period ensemble Les Siècles. This performance with the LSO didn’t affect me in anything like the same way, and, given the precision and intensity of the LSO players, we might attribute that to the programme. Or I might attribute it. If I were moaning.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like Debussy. Although, to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, to my ears an undisciplined and ungainly mess that until the last movement doesn’t know what to do with itself. That said, I enjoyed it more this time than the last time I heard it, which also is not saying much.

Jeux and the Three Nocturnes usually delight me greatly but here left me cold and distant. Perhaps I needed a palette cleanser more interventionist than the interval to help me dissociate the flailings of the Fantasy from the similarly timbred but entirely purposeful wonders of the latter two. Or perhaps Roth’s tempos don’t match my ideal in this music, a little sluggish, not as alive to the music’s energy as I would expect.

I enjoyed L’après-midi d’un faune a lot. Now there’s a ten-minute piece you can’t hear too many times. Perhaps, on its bicentenary in 2094, someone could programme a concert which is just eight performances of the one piece?

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