Ludovic Morlot and the MSO make waves with sea-themed performance


Conductor Ludovic Morlot.Credit:Brandon Patoc

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Hamer Hall, May 16

No matter where they may hail from, composers the world over have long drawn inspiration from the sea. This program helmed by French guest conductor Ludovic Morlot took its audience on an aquatic odyssey across Europe, revealing the changeable character of this music’s watery muse.
Beginning in Russia, Liadov’s small but perfectly formed tone poem, The Enchanted Lake, summoned a dreamy calm.

This gave way to the expansive Finnish shores of Sibelius’ almost proto-minimalist The Oceanides, its throbbing brass chords, so characteristic of the composer’s mature output, evoking the ebb and flow of the tide.

Voyaging then to the blasted shale of the Suffolk coast for the Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, this quartet of works charted a course through reaching emotional depths, from the aching sorrow of dawn into the eye of a ferocious squall.

Oddly, for a program of such flowing and largely lyrical repertoire, Morlot’s somewhat severe, declamatory style proved a disturbing force on the music’s surface tension. This was particularly apparent in that most definitive of sea-inspired works, Debussy’s La Mer. Now recognised as a masterpiece, its 1905 premiere was in fact more a shipwreck than a proud maiden voyage, and something of the potential fragility of Debussy’s carefully layered textures was present in Morlot’s account.

There were moments where the performance matched the drama and majesty of the Hokusai woodcut The Great Wave, so iconically used as the published score’s cover art. And yet, while it may not have been all-out damp squib, ultimately this performance failed to make a splash.

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