We always like concerts with French music. At the weekend we heard the Festival Orchestra play a selection of delightful French pieces from the turn and the first third of the 20th century in the Palace of Arts, conducted by Marc Minkowski. He has established his reputation as the founder and conductor of Les Musiciens du Louvre, known primarily as the apostle of Baroque composers and secondly as a conductor with a flair for rarities, special pieces by composers even from the 20th century.
The first piece was Gabriel Fauré’s suite, Pelléas and Mélisande, which was also the first of the three compositions on the programme in terms of chronology.
The suite, a magnificent musical expression of all the naivity of the art nouveau, impressionism and the turn of the century is an excellent start, the four movements all depict something – Sicilienne, the third movement was integrated into the composition later and has a life of its own – and though Fauré’s music is pleasant to listen to, we were all squirming a little with impatience, waiting for the next piece to come.
This was Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, born thirty years after Fauré’s suite and showing a completely different face of French music. It is expressive, vehement, then suddenly contemplative and slow, then restless, capricious, but most of all: ingenious. The two pianos placed adjacently on the stage are entangled in a conversation with each other, and occasionally the orchestra also comes in and has a say: who else than a French composer could have the idea of pianos, brass and woodwinds and pizzicato-strings playing unisono? Towards the end of the first movement the aerial gamelan imitation gives us the shivers: the piano plays its own echo with the sweet string melody sneaking in slowly over it – in the second, the flageolet of the cello is slightly out of tune but we don't mind - and the shivers mean one thing: good music, good musicians. The slow movement reminiscent of Mozart takes us back to some centuries ago, however, the sometimes nervous twists and changes in the final movement forecast many things yet to come in music in the future. But it is mainly the naivity and innocence already lost that the music conveys. The two young French pianists, David Kadouch and Guillaume Vincent – regular guests in famous concert halls – roll their sleeves up and overcome the finger-killer runs. Their expressive though sometimes overly artistic playing is accurate and enjoyable, with the orchestra being their equal partner.
The delight after the interval is the third symphony of the ex-seaman Albert Roussell. The composition of the seaman, known as the composer of several dance-suites and symphonic pieces, could best be described as undisciplined. The orchestra, extended with all kinds of percussions and celesta, sometimes plays powerfully, other times with lyrical contemplation, but these seem to have nothing to do with one another. Marc Minkowski, the Maitre, does not keep a tight rein on the orchestra – not that they need it – but he "plays music" with his body, nicely and expressively. All in all, we are looking forward to the Budapest Spring Festival, when we can see and hear him again conducting his own orchestra.