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Sunday, March 13, 2016
Orchestre de Paris/Paavo Järvi at Philharmonie de Paris – Sibelius 3 – Vincent Lucas plays Nielsen’s Flute Concerto
The second half found the orchestra in richer voice and the audience relaxed rather than uneasy. Carl Nielsen's Flute Concerto, premiered in Paris ninety years ago, has plenty of tricky corners and structural question-marks to negotiate. Vincent Lucas, the distinguished first flute of the Orchestre de Paris, got off to a nervous start but, once under way, rose to the challenge. The many ensemble exchanges worked well. And there was plenty of lyrical input and warm blending (the end of the first movement, for example). Järvi, who understands his Nielsen, made good sense of the piece, without unduly forcing the syntax or hardening the rhythm.
Recordings of Sibelius's Third Symphony too often lull one into a false sense of security – an easy 'little' classical number, Beethoven 8 style, that just plays itself. Järvi's burnished full-strength performance, framed within the airy, appealingly clear, bass-responsive acoustic of the Paris Philharmonie (a place I increasingly like), showed us the reality. As danger works go, the Third is a minefield, an unforgiving jigsaw pitted with solo and group traps, disjointed fragments of melody, and pages of seeming chaos going nowhere. The eventual C-major catharsis of the outer movements is not easily won.
Järvi, favouring old/modern brisk tempos in preference to a graver approach, steered an impeccably clear path through the maze. The Orchestre de Paris boasts a sterling string section: the involved rhythmic bite of the cellos, double basses and violas (right of conductor) gripped the attention unfailingly, likewise their emphatic lower-end colouration, every attack, harmony and drone rasping through the hall like so many ancestral voices.
In the pageant of the slow movement, the woodwinds (minimal vibrato) brought a cold Asgardian beauty to the proceedings. The brass throughout had bronzed moments. And everywhere Sibelius's attention to the kettle-drums was balanced with purpose and drama. By the end you felt you'd been on an epic, magnificent journey, a virtuoso of the first order.