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It was a hard act to follow, and I'm afraid Smetana's Vltava from Ma Vlast, the only Czech piece on offer, really was an anticlimax. The music, like the river it depicts, swelled dramatically in places but one was struck more by artifice than emotional power. And, although I suspect very few of the audience would concur, on the basis of their final ovation, I felt something similar with Ravel's erotic romp, Daphnis and Chloe. It's a piece I've known and enjoyed for over thirty years; the first time I heard it, on the radio, I was quite overwhelmed. Yet here in the concert hall, though it was well enough played, that famous 'tingle factor' just wasn't quite there; this despite some ravishing playing from the principal flautist.

As I say, the audience was of a different mind. We had a Slavonic dance as a brief encore, and even before the applause had ended, the orchestra members were picking up their instruments and heading off the stage. Very few of them were smiling. Had they not enjoyed their evening? Were they making a point, as hard-working professionals? Or should I close my eyes when I'm at a concert, and just listen? Never mind the conductor's style, the soloist's dress sense, the dour expressions of the players. But, in my stubborn, curmudgeonly way, I believe there should be a communication between the performers on the stage and the people listening which includes visual nuances. Otherwise we may as well stay at home and listen to a CD.

Even as I write this, part of me feels I'm being mean and unreasonable but, in the end, it's that old 'gut feeling' which counts. And, on that basis -- apart from the Prokofiev my verdict is still, in the language of the American fairground: 'Close, but no cigar!'

Copyright © 25 May 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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