Orchestre National de France

So we’re into the last few days of the Proms now, and today it was the turn of the French national orchestra, with a programme of French-related music. In the first half, it was two of Debussy’s well-known and popular tone poems Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune and La mer. The orchestra, under their new (Italian) music director Daniele Gatti, gave these two works a decidedly French-sounding impressionistic colour. Fortunately, unlike the performance of Britten’s depiction of the sea in Prom 42, the music was not interrupted by bird calls. Somehow, music about the sea always manages to be easily evocative of its subject. While Debussy’s version is more gentle than Britten’s (perhaps the difference between the seas off the coast of France with the sun glittering off them, and the cold, wet Suffolk coast?) parts of it still have the power of the waves, in particular the ending, which is always certain to go down well with the audience. There was no soloist this time, but as with a couple of the recent pianists, Gatti himself at times hummed along with the music! That’s the first time I’ve heard a conductor do it.

After the interval, it was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which had its infamous première, which resulted in a riot, in Paris, giving the French connection. (Incidentally, a ballet version of La mer, also by Vaslav Nijinsky, had a similar impact a few years earlier.) The orchestra had grown even larger for the second half, and ensured the music went out with a bang as Stravinsky’s score reached its climax. The level of applause secured us the first encore for a while, causing the concert to go on well past its estimated finishing time.

Update: The encore was the Prelude to Act 3 of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, a full performance of which was given in Prom 2 in July. Thanks to the Radio 3 announcer (and iPlayer) for that.

One surprise today was that the fountain had disappeared from the centre of the arena. Perhaps it’s in preparation for the Last Night on Saturday. I guess that’ll be the last we see of the fountain until next year. I did wonder what happened to the people who always sit in the same chairs around the fountain, such as the man with the long, grey beard who is always right in front of it. One strange phenomenon was that, whereas usually everyone crowds to the left-hand side of the fountain, without it there more people went to the right. It’s true that there was no soloist for this concert, but even so, that doesn’t normally make any difference.

Prom 71
Debussy
Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune
Debussy La mer
interval
Stravinsky The Rite of Spring
Orchestre National de France
Daniele Gatti conductor

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