Though it failed to fill the hall, this was a closing concert of high achievement. Perhaps the thought of a German orchestra performing an entire evening of Ravel did not whet appetites. But what Jonathan Nott and his dedicated Bambergers delivered on Saturday was very special, not at all sensational (no climactic performance of Bolero, not even the swirl of La Valse), but a scrupulous examination of what made Ravel the composer he was.
Intelligently compiled, it was intelligently performed, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard adding his seal of authority to the Concerto For Left Hand, and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus contributing their richly wordless voices to the ballet music. Even the opening piece, the Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales, seemed designed to draw us into Ravel’s world of ravishingly contrasted timbres rather than take us by storm.
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On their third visit to the Festival in recent years, these were players to arouse the greatest expectations. Although, for some people, what matters in Daphnis And Chloe is the closing scene, which forms the basis of a standard orchestral suite, the context of the rest of the work is essential if the music is to make its proper effect. This, and more, was what it was given. Nott is a master of musical structure who was clearly in his element.
It was a performance whose success lay as much in its refinement as in its big moments, making the familiar suite seem as unacceptable now as any bleeding chunk of Wagner. Aimard’s intent, deeply serious account of the concerto, emerging from sombre but precisely articulated instrumental tone, formed the perfect prelude.