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ONF de Retour

available at Amazon
Debussy, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, I. Huppert, Orchestre National de France, D. Gatti
(Radio France, 2012)

available at Amazon
Debussy, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (inter alia), Orchestre National de France, D. Gatti
(Sony Classics, 2012)
The last time that the Orchestre National de France was in Washington, at the Kennedy Center in 2008, the late Kurt Masur was at the podium. On that tour, the main course was delicious Bruckner, with a slightly odd Beethoven concerto with pianist David Fray. For their latest appearance, presented by Washington Performing Arts on Sunday afternoon in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Daniele Gatti reversed the concept, with a rather boring choice of symphony preceded by a devastating concerto.

Some cities on the tour heard Alexandre Tharaud play a Mozart concerto, which was probably nice enough, but in Washington it was violinist Julian Rachlin who offered a gloomy, mordant, utterly compelling rendition of Shostakovich's first violin concerto. He gave the solo part an intense but whispered tone in the first movement, with Gatti covering the dissonant string chords in a deep shadow, with glimmers of celesta shining through, the rumble of double bass pedal notes, colored with whoosh of the gong and growls of contrabassoon. It could be risky, trying to sustain the listener's interest over this extended movement, but Gatti and Rachlin did so, down to the last floating high note.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Biting Russian music from a French orchestra (Washington Post, February 1)

Simon Chin, Daniele Gatti and the Orchestre National de France Perform Debussy, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky (Chin Up, February 1)

Jeffrey Gantz, Daniele Gatti, Orchestre National de France shine in Tchaikovsky (Boston Globe, January 26)

David Wright, Gatti, Orchestra National de France bring fresh insights to familiar music (The Classical Review, January 26)

Natasha Gauthier, Violinist Julian Rachlin lets the audience share in his physical, mental performance (Ottawa Citizen, January 25)
In the second movement, maniacally and metronomically paced, Rachlin made his 1704 "ex Liebig" Stradivarius cackle and sneer, pushing the tone into ugly territory at times. The orchestra crowed in raucous approval when it had its chance to burst forth, to chilling effect, and the tempo of the slow movement, even though too slow for the marking of Andante, had a dirge-like feel to it that was convincing, even over its considerable length. Rachlin had a way of caressing the dissonant notes, making them just as beautiful, and the cadenza grew in force and volume into a triumphant start of the finale.

The Burlesca quivered with anxiety, as Rachlin appeared to rush and jump ahead just slightly here and there, but Gatti recalibrated the ensemble imperceptibly, so it ended up being an impressive tour de force. Sadly, the applause was not sufficient to elicit the encore Rachlin had in store, an Ysaÿe movement he played at Carnegie Hall (which the New York Times apparently did not review). The missed encore may have had something to do with the lack of bodies in the hall: the sales were apparently so tepid that the Kennedy Center closed the upper balcony and had patrons relocate to the floor. For the concert opener, Gatti and the musicians shaped Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune with remarkable freedom, without the tempo dragging as it does so often. The result was languorous but not soporific, and along with a pretty flute solo, breathy and sensuous, an orchestra of immense proportions produced a range of delicate, pastel hues. The second half consisted of a performance of Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony (not reviewed).

Next on the Washington Performing Arts visiting orchestra series is the Budapest Festival Orchestra (February 15), at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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