Have you ever wondered what the works of the French Impressionist composers would sound like if conducted in a Wagnerian style? I sure haven’t but, thanks to Thomas Søndergård, I now know that it would sound pretty lame. Or was it just me? When an entire concert is this far off mark then I find myself doubting my own ears, so I guess that maybe there is a chance that this evening’s ASO performance wasn’t played like it was a program of late German romanticism and I’m just crazy. Take that as you will.
The concert began with a performance of Berlioz’s overture, Le Corsaire. This was unremarkable to the extent that I really won’t remark on it.
Next was the evening’s concerto: Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. This was originally composed for Ludwig Wittgenstein’s brother, a virtuosic pianist named Paul who lost his right arm fighting in WWI. Apparently being a wealthy and prominent family with an extremely brilliant mathematician wasn’t enough so they also just had to also have a virtuosic pianist. I’m not jealous, mind you…
Anyway, I’m rather fond of Ravel’s works for piano: there’s always something beautiful, something interesting, and something cool enough to make them sound like they would be appropriate to be played in a really sexy piano bar. This piece is no exception. Alexandre Tharaud played it reading from the score but seemed to have a good bit of comfort with the piece. (Perhaps a bit too much comfort, his hand missed some keys at one point.) Aside from being a bit heavy on the pedals, his interpretation was pretty good. He brought out a bit of a cabaret feeling from it. It’s not necessarily the way that I’d want to hear it played on a regular basis, but it was enjoyable.
After intermission, Søndergård seemed to be playing “Find the boom.” Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole and Debussy’s La Mer do not lend themselves to the conductor’s big, late-Romantic sound. The pieces mostly came across as simply passable except for those few small parts where Søndergård could make them as big and loud as possible.
Overall, the concert was an unimpressive performance of a program of really enjoyable music. Honestly, the conversation that I had with the woman sitting next to me about whether or not Agapova’s stand-partner was wearing bedroom slippers was more interesting than the performance that Søndergård got out of the orchestra. I’m not saying that it was horrible, but it was just not what it should have been. I probably won’t come to anymore concerts conducted by him unless the program is German. I might enjoy some Mahler under his baton, for instance, but I’m going to avoid pretty much anything from the rest of the world.