Michel Plasson, Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris, Opéra Bastille, Paris, April 25 2012
Kurt Masur, Orchestre National de France, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, April 26 2012
I thought I would start this blog with a word on these 2 maestros who graced Paris concert halls this week.
Both conductors share a remarkable insight on music (Plasson obviously for French music, but not exclusively, Masur for German & Russian music among others, due to his youth in Eastern Germany), both have what I would call a “classical” approach – which to me is clearly a compliment – and are loved by the musicians for their humanism.
Michel Plasson was conducting the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris in Opéra Bastille. As one of the best specialists of French music with Georges Prêtre and Serge Baudo, he had chosen an all French program: Maurice Ravel’s Valses Nobles & Sentimentales, Albert Roussel’s Bacchus & Ariane Second Suite, and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
Ravel pieces, which offer a lot of different moods, were played con gusto and exquisite balance, with a special mention for the second one. Even though waltz is the dance I like less, I enjoyed every second of this interpretation.
I must admit I do not know Roussel’s music that well, but the Suite Bacchus & Ariane was an excellent surprise. The dark moments were really powerful, and the ending Bacchanale was fiercely energetic.
But the main reason for my attendance was Berlioz master piece: despite 1 or 2 hitches in the wood section, the result was simply brilliant, with a special mention for Scène aux champs and Marche au supplice. Not forgetting the powerful final, one of the most incredible things you could hear, written only 40 years after Mozart’s death!
Michel Plasson then talked to the audience and said a couple of very nice words to thank the orchestra and to dedicate the encore to Maurice André, the great trumpet player who died several weeks ago.
While leaving the podium, Michel Plasson stumbled but managed to keep his balance with the assistance of 2 of the musicians.
Unfortunately, the very next day, Kurt Masur was not so lucky: his musicians from the Orchestre National de France could not catch him as he fell from the podium down onto the area in front of the first row. Falling backwards from a 1m50 height is scary for anyone, but even more for someone well over 80. The concert was naturally interrupted, the musicians and audience appalled. News about maestro Masur’s health have since been rather reassuring, and I send him my best wishes for a full & complete recovery.
Prior to his fall, Kurt Masur conducted Shostakovich 1st Symphony, which is rarely played in France. The work is full of ideas, written by a very young composer (19), even though some traits are already typical of his music. The interpretation was at the same level as the work itself, splendid and very much alive. After almost each movement, Kurt Masur sent a kiss to his musicians, who adore him.
After the intermission, was to come Tchaikovsky’s Pathetic Symphony. The first movement had all the power & vision requested, the second this perfect strange waltz flow, and the third was rising to a climax when the maestro fell. One minute before, I was thinking of the last movement that was about to come, the slow Lamentoso, and had imagined the exceptional moment we were to experience…
The parallels between the maestros and the concerts also include the 2 majors works played: the shock of these 2 symphonies at the time of their creation, and still to the new listener today, the fact that they share several points, like the strange waltz, the highly energetic and dark episodes, and their autobiographical origin.
A big thank you to both orchestras and conductors, and again best wishes to Kurt Masur, hoping to see him very soon again.