A sophisticated summer’s evening of Impressionist magic by the London Philharmonic
Set in the elegant courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts (RAA), Music in the Courtyard was a special one-off concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra inspired by the RAA’s current exhibition, From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. Impressionism was the artistic movement of the late 19th to early 20th centuries which featured artists such as Monet, Renoir and Matisse, and composers from Ravel to Debussy. The art and music in this period sought to evoke subject matter and mood through colour and atmosphere, and reflected the rapidly modernising world.
Fate was kind to the organisers, providing a perfect early September evening with a warm, sweet breeze and pale blue skies gradually dimming through shades of purple to the night sky behind the beautiful up-lit Georgian architecture of the RAA. The sold-out audience was treated to a programme that heavily featured Ravel, along with Chausson, Duparc and Dukas (Debussy was strangely absent).
As the orchestra prepared to play, an expectant hush fell over the audience, and Ravel’s four-movement Rapsodie espagnole commenced proceedings with its tense, slow opening of an unsettling descending four-note motif which crescendos to a wash of lush, Romantic strings.
Chausson’s Poème pour violon, despite being something of an unknown quantity from a composer in the shadow of the more famous Impressionist masters, exceeded expectations. Executed beautifully by Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma, the work is a decadent, yearning story of forbidden love, and was emotive and transfixing.
The third piece in Ravel’s piano suite, Miroirs, “Une barque sur l’océan” was slightly underwhelming following the powerful Chausson Poème, but perfectly depicted the undulating swell of the waves lapping at the Bay of Biscay.
Following the interval, soprano Danielle de Niese drifted into Henri Dupac’s four Mélodies – French poems by Baudelaire, Leconte de Lisle and Lahor set to delicate orchestrations. The audience weren’t quite settled before the music began, and de Niese, while technically proficient, never quite captured their attention – perhaps something to do with the barrier created as she read the music that prevented her making as much contact with us as she might have done.
Dukas’ La Péri was lengthy, and despite the rousing opening brass fanfare it perhaps needed the dancers it was written for to really bring it to life.
Saving the best for last, the evening closed with Ravel’s masterpiece, La valse, a seductive waltz depicting the ballrooms of Vienna which slowly transforms into a darker, more unsettling soundscape conveying the new era the composer found himself in as the First World War changed the shape of society forever.
Under the baton of Fabien Gabel, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed with energy and commitment, delivering a captivating programme in a challenging acoustic setting neatly located under London’s flight path. The concert perfectly complemented the Royal Academy’s Impressionist exhibition in a beautiful setting, and nice touches such as the goody bags for the audience made for a perfect late summer evening’s entertainment.
Photo: Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts
The event was streamed live on the Guardian’s website and will be available for the next 14 days.
The Royal Academy’s exhibition runs until 23rd September. See here for more details.