Charles Dutoit and the OSR ignite a high-flying “Firebird”

It’s one of those evenings when a crowd of music lovers gather in front of the doors of the Victoria Hall in Geneva to listen to two great artists: the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the Lausanne conductor Charles Dutoit. While the first sprained his wrist so badly that he had to give up the concert and had to be replaced at short notice by an unknown violinist, the Ukrainian Valeriy Sokolov, the second has been relatively absent internationally in recent years after complaints of sexual harassment, which slowed his career ( the internal investigation launched at the end of 2017, will not confirm the allegations).

Also read: End of the painful career for Charles Dutoit

Magic of orchestral colors, beauty of sound textures, silky and velvety: Firebird by Stravinsky in the second part is a miracle. Rarely have the musicians of the Orchester de la Suisse Romande (OSR) appeared so free and fulfilled in Stravinsky’s ballet. If this score has been part of the OSR’s DNA since the legendary performances of Ernest Ansermet, Charles Dutoit conducts with that mixture of rigor and dedication that gives the orchestra’s musicians air and space. A bird of fire sensual and lively, carried by the interventions of the soloists of great beauty, especially on woodwind (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon) and brass.

The Lausanne conductor’s gestures alone – a hand movement here, a look there, sometimes stepping back to invite the musicians to join in – eloquently convey his intentions. The score seems to reveal itself as choreographed hands aiming for fluidity and suppleness without ever impeding the flow of the episodes intertwined in a dissolve. Sometimes there is a break to mark a pause, then the discourse resumes with renewed vigour, in search of a mystery that is both earthly and spiritual.

At 85, Charles Dutoit is showing an added fragility where years of experience and success had led him to lead, at times, in a terribly confident, almost easy-going manner. The panache of bygone times can be found in the opening from Rouslan and Ludmila by Glinka at the beginning of the concert: a lot of momentum, a robust and invigorating sound. But already in these exuberant cello cantilenas or in the chirping of the woodwinds we sense tenderness.

Violin of rare eloquence
Much better than a vulgar lambda substitute, we hear Valeriy Sokolov in the beautiful violin Concerto in D major by Tchaikovsky. Square shoulders, half-closed eyes planted firmly on both legs in an effort of concentration that sometimes resembles soliloquy, the Ukrainian violinist develops a play of spider-like delicacy and a very special inwardness. He avoids all sentimentality and turns his back on sleeve effects.

This violin with a noble bearing, with a dense and subtle sound that strives to emphasize the delicacy of the lines, soaring highs, velvety mids, lows comparable to those of a viola, is of rare eloquence. On the other hand, that intoxication and that grain of madness that seem to us (at least during the concert on Wednesday evening in Geneva) also belong to this music is missing.
Adrenaline under control
The magnificent “Canzonetta” in the heart of concert is in a humble and tender streak, while the “finale”, modulated by an impressive mastery of the bow, releases his adrenaline in a controlled manner. We appreciate the clarity of the accents in the second theme, with its folksy and rural character. The orchestral accompaniment by Charles Dutoit is generously opulent, the conductor trying to roll out a – sometimes flexible and mobile – carpet for the soloist. Valeriy Sokolov delivers a great version of Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice Opus 6 by Fritz Kreisler as an encore: Here, too, the phrasing and the legato are amazing. Fireworks in the violin lines.

A great evening, then, marked by an orchestra at its best, the return of Charles Dutoit and the emotional presence of the excellent Russian violinist Sergey Ostrovsky as concert master and his buddy Valeriy Sokolov, sharing music without borders.

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