St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse

Claude Debussy. Prélude а "l'après-midi d'un faune"
Jacques Ibert. Concerto for flute and orchestra
Soloist: Emmanuel Pahud (flute)

Hector Berlioz. La Symphonie Fantastique

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1 November 2010
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse

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L’Après-midi d’un faune (1894) by Claude Debussy (1862–1918) has the secondary title of Prélude à l’eclogue de Mallarmé. An eclogue was, in ancient and subsequently in European poetry, a poem to a theme about pastoral life, close to the idyll and the pastorale. Stéphane Mallarmé’s eclogue was initially intended to be declaimed by the poet himself to illustrate dances, making it an attempt to revive the ancient tradition when an aulos player (the aulos was an ancient two-barrelled flute) would perform and dance at the same time, or at least move to the bars of the music.
Debussy was looking, it would appear, for that harmony and that syncretism (or combination of arts) in Mallarmé’s poetry that had been lost since ancient times. But Debussy was also looking for something else in the poetry: he always stressed the impossibility of conveying – in words – sensations born from music and dance which, according to Debussy, enshroud a truly musical creation. And this in turn was directly connected with the aesthetics and literary principles of Mallarmé.
For Mallarmé, first and foremost the important thing was the general impression engendered by his poetry – hence the closeness to Impressionist painting. But Mallarmé himself admitted that Debussy’s music conveyed his poetry with much greater subtlety. Here is what he said to the composer when the latter played his Prélude for him on the piano (NB! On the piano, lacking, therefore, the wonderful orchestral timbres!): “I didn’t expect anything of the kind! This music continues the emotion of my poem and adorns it even more passionately than colours could do.” In 1912 Vaslav Nijinsky staged L’Après-midi d’un faune for Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, himself performing the lead role. Debussy himself had the good fortune to see this performance.


“A huge symphonic composition in a new genre, by means of which I shall attempt to make a great impression on my audience,” was how Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) described the score of his Symphonie fantastique (1830), a clear manifesto of musical romanticism. The composer was not relying on the imagination of his audience, which had learned the classicist model of the symphony – from Haydn to Beethoven. And as well as the titles of the movements of the Symphonie fantastique he gave it a well-developed literary programme in which autobiographical motifs are reflected: the story of the young composer’s passionate love for the Irish Harriet Smithson, prima donna of an English theatre company on tour in Paris.
In following the programme, the attentive listener will not miss the details of the plot of this musical “novella”, brilliantly brought to life by means of the symphony orchestra. The central image of the symphony, its idé fixe, is the theme of love which cements together the entire cycle. It appears in various forms – ranging from the dreamlike contours of a beautiful and desirable woman in the first three movements to grotesque and caricature in the final two. The Symphonie fantastique was first performed in Paris on 5 December 1830 under the baton of the composer.


Jacques Ibert (1890 – 1962) was a prominent French composer of the first half of the 20th century. Ibert’s elegant à la française and wonderfully refined music stands apart for its clarity and severity of form, its lithe and capricious rhythms, its refined and at times heavily ornamented melodies and its colourful instrumental scale. Ibert was prone to musical buffonade and witty, almost eccentric jokes; his favourite genres were the suite and the divertissement. Ibert succeeded in combining impressionist and classical tastes in his work, as well as influences from Debussy and Stravinsky, the composers in Les Six.
This is certainly true of the Flute Concerto (1933). The renowned virtuoso Marcel Moyse, to whom the concerto is dedicated, first performed it in Paris on 25 February 1934. Despite its strongly expressed virtuoso nature, the work is permeated with a light and lyrical mood. The music stands out for its impetuous movement and the abundance of capricious melodic figurations in the solo role.
The short, four-bar introduction precedes the glib and energetic main theme of the first movement, Allegro, which begins with the flute and “continues to speak” through the strings. The second theme of a sonata allegro, lyrically warmer and more expressive, appears in exactly the same way, first being performed by the solo flute. The themes are subjected to treatment that is in relief and engaging. In the Andante, the second and poetically inspired movement, the melody of the solo flute soars above the muted strings. The concerto concludes with the final rondo Allegro scherzando which is imbued with syncopated “jazz” rhythms. The finale of the concerto with its virtuoso solo cadenza is a challenge to flautists, a test of their skill, frequently employed at the Paris Conservatoire as a concert piece.

Iosif Raiskin


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