Well, some evenings at the BSO you can simply relax into your seat and let the music wash over you. This was not one of those evenings. Entering the hall, as well as the usual supressed anticipation there was almost hilarity from the very small socially distanced audience at the bizarre situation we find ourselves in during this pandemic.
We settled down, and then the Faure started. Masques et Bergamasques, reworked by an elderly Faure from earlier pieces, invokes the atmosphere of the commedia dell’arte. An expressive, lively and intense piece, the title taken from the poem Clair de lune, ‘masks and Bergamasks in charming wise strum lutes and dance,’ and the exuberant dance certainly enthralled us, with the sweetness enlivened by some harmonic clashes.
Mother Goose, by Ravel, was next, inspired by stories for children, and dedicated to the children of Ravel’s friend Godebski, aged 8 and 10. In the series of tableaux the orchestra used their instruments to paint pictures, pulling us along into the tales. Vibrantly colourful, we hear the sound of distant horns, and birdsong. Then comes Beauty and the Beast, the beautiful notes of the harp, then a discordant duet with a very modern sound although composed a hundred years ago. The fifth tableau, Empress of the Pagodas, changes again, treating us to gong and glockenspiel and invoking the orient in exotic constantly shifting rhythms.
Having been taken out of our comfort zone by the Ravel, the orchestra launched into Symphony No 2 by Saint-Saens. This is often neglected but is fast moving, urgent and energetic. In the delicate slow movement, one can imagine long skirts in a drawing room, swishing in courtly dance, then the scherzo speeds up into a turbulent syncopation, fading until there is a loud chord to surprise at the end. Even faster and louder, the final movement is a tarantella, with the orchestra forging along and the conductor seeming to ride the music. Just as it seemed all was getting out of control there was quietness, then a final burst into the jubilant finish.
Not a relaxing evening, but an energetic, and dynamic concert and a wonderful rendition by the BSO of these challenging and sometimes neglected pieces.