With all the furore that’s engulfing Europe politically, it’s good to see that the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France is still in good shape. Musically speaking, that is.
That was certainly the mood on Friday night in Perth’s concert hall when the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra were united with works by Debussy and Ravel. Indeed, if you add the mercurial wizardry of an octogenarian Spanish pianist, the whole evening had a tri-nations feel to it.
To the pianist in question, Joaquin Achucarro. At the ripe old age of 86, he skipped across the keyboard like an enthusiastic teenager in a marvellous performance of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand, spritely agility couple with astounding technique. It goes to show just what trickery a left hand can demonstrate in the dizzy heights above middle C. It’s an amazing work in more ways than one, set in A-B-A fashion and with a jazzy-cum-martial middle section that contrasted marvellously with the outer passages.
The orchestra? They rode the crest of the waves of perfection, an analogy quite fitting the nautical music that, for me, was the epitome of orchestral excellence – Debussy’s La Mer. Before that, the orchestra, in particular principal flautist Charlotte Ashton, and conductor Thomas Dausgaard had wrapped us in a cocoon of velvet in Debussy’s serene Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un Faune, but the nautical pictures painted by the composer came strongly to life in La Mer.
The moods were undulating in every sense, and this work lends itself to sitting back and letting it all wash over you, if you’ll pardon the expression. My favourite is the final sketch of the wind and the sea in dialogue. It’s a brilliant impressionistic composition, and I thought Dausgaard and the BBC SSO captured every moment in stunning fashion.
The concert had opened with some Debussy Nocturnes, which were relatively new to me, and these had the Debussy nuances one has come to expect from this man. Extremely well played, but overshadowed by one amazing pianist and one amazing interpretation of La Mer.