Deneve leads stylish and illuminating French program with New World Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Stephane Deneve conducted the New World Symphony in a program of French music Saturday night at New World Center.

The New World Symphony offered a striking program of 20th- and 21st-century French music Saturday night at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Stephane Deneve, one of the ensemble’s most impressive guest conductors in recent seasons, returned to lead a concert that mixed familiar chestnuts with a rarely heard dance score and a gleaming contemporary sound portrait of the cosmos.

A Glimmer in the Age of Darkness by Guillaume Connesson is the 41-year-old composer’s musical depiction of the birth of light in the galaxy, four hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. No trendy New Age concoction, Connesson has created an arresting soundscape, sensuous and replete with gorgeous patterns of instrumental color. The shimmer of strings and harp introduces a brass chorale, a meeting of Ravel and J.S. Bach, resounding from the darkness. A slow-moving Indian raga theme emerges from the violas leading to a full-throated burst of light from the entire orchestra, augmented by a large percussion battery. Beautifully crafted solos for the viola, oboe and horn presage a second wave of igniting stars, followed by a return to the serene opening. Connesson’s flowing wave of instrumental timbres is hypnotic, a tonal painting of infinity. This significant addition to the repertoire is in the grand French impressionist tradition of Ravel with a 21st-century twist.

Connesson’s score is dedicated to Deneve who drew a sensuous, intense performance from the New World players. This gifted French conductor brings  Gallic lightness and transparency of texture to the music of his countrymen, igniting strongly placed instrumental timbres that surprise the ear and senses, even in the most familiar scores. Music director designate of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and a rising star in Europe, Deneve possesses the podium mastery of Pierre Boulez without that conductor’s intellectual chilliness.

Deneve led a rhythmically alert, bracing account of the orchestral component of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, spotlighting the snappy wind and brass writing with whip-cracking immediacy. This 1931 work is Ravel’s final completed testament, a dazzling bravura vehicle requiring a soloist of extraordinary ability.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet proved more than equal to the score’s myriad challenges. A dynamic keyboard personality and sensitive musician, Thibaudet had the cool, jazzy lightness of the opening movement under his fingers, bringing charm and insouciance beneath the pyrotechnics. His dreamy, elegant reading of the Adagio was matched by the rich orchestral colors Deneve magically conjured from the alert winds and strings. Thibaudet attacked the fast hand crossings and clusters of rapid-fire notes in the finale with light-hearted flair, the populist influences of American jazz crossing with Ravel’s impressionism.

New World conducting fellow Teddy Abrams opened the concert’s second half with an excitable traversal of Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso. Abrams’ over-the-top gestures and nervous podium manner led an overly brassy reading. Still the beautifully articulated bassoon solo and strong rhythmic underpinning projected the piece’s sultry Spanish aura.

The music of Albert Roussel is too seldom heard on contemporary concert programs. More classicist than impressionist, Roussel brought an individual voice and vibrant instrumental palette to such masterful scores as the glowing ballet Bacchus et Ariane and the astringent Symphony No. 3. Deneve conducted symphonic fragments from Roussel’s 1913 ballet The Spider’s Feat, a mixture of understated lyricism and sinew. The conductor drew voluptuous textures from the ensemble, alternately softly caressing  and acerbic in bracing outbursts.

Deneve concluded the evening with a no nonsense, lithe performance of Ravel’s La Valse that was devoid of sentimentality. A deep well of string sonority highlighted a propulsive reading that heralded the last days of the waltz.

The New World Symphony repeats the program 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. 305-673-3331


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Sun Apr 10, 2011
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