I feel sorry for Maurice Ravel. Mention his name and the response is always, “Ah, Bolero”. Now, that may be a great piece of music but it suffers from over exposure, often in contexts that are less than flattering. But Bolero is by no means typical of the French composer. I prefer his chamber music but also love his orchestral works, L’enfant et les Sortilèges and, in particular, La Mèr d’Oye, the piece that attracted me to last night’s concert which was aptly named Volmaakte schoonheid – Perfect Beauty.
Although nominally top of the bill was Brahms’ Symphony No.3, it was the Ravel that I had come to hear. The name translates as Mother Goose and the pieces written between 1908 and1911 are described as cinq pièces enfantines, best translated as “five childhood pieces”. The suite was originally put together as a five-movement piano duet in 1910 but the following year Ravel orchestrated the work. It benefits enormously from the full orchestral score which brings out all the subtle nuances of the fairy tales it interprets. It is the woodwind that dominates but there was some very fine solo violin from the orchestra’s leader, Lucian-Leonard Raiciof in Le jardin féerique.
The concert had opened with a piece, the quality of which was much greater than its quantity. The One Minute Symphony, Kanikama Shinsguu No.2 by young Dutch composer Gijs van der Heijden displayed a richness and maturity that makes one eager to hear more.
Gustav Mahler/Rückert’s Lieder provided a great showcase for English soprano Ruby Hughes. She has a voice and physical presence that can dominate any concert hall and her rendition of the five songs was full of passion and emotion.
The third movement from Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 is, like Bolero, also a piece that is widely heard outside the classical concert halls but, unlike Ravel’s signature tune, the Poco allegretto is a thing of such overpowering, such perfect beauty that one never tires of it.
Another thing of beauty last night was the performance of Jun Märkl. The Orkest’s permanent guest conductor has the grace and style of a ballroom dancer. Moving elegantly, he partnered his baton with a smooth sophistication – a flick of the wrist here, a chic shimmy across his podium there. He rose on tip-toe to coax the percussion and bent his knee, leaning forward to sweet-talk the cellos. Wonderful to watch and no doubt he brought out the very best from the Residentie Orkest.
So was Perfect Beauty a thing of . . .err . . .perfect beauty? Well, as close as you could realistically hope to get in a concert hall, I guess, on a cold December evening in The Hague. Michael Hasted 3rd December 2022