The intimations of both Ravel and Stravinsky in Colin Matthews’ opulent orchestrations of Debussy’s gusty Preludes “The Wind in the Plain” and “What the West Wind Saw” made for a quite incestuous feel to this the second of John Adams’ cunningly devised concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra. All five composers cross-fertilised in interesting ways.
Matthews’ take on the Debussy Preludes was governed by a desire to make them as orchestral in texture and as far removed from the piano as was conceivably possible. It’s what the best orchestral transcriptions always do and why Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition at times feels as though the plainer piano original came after and not before. Flickers of “Gnomus” and “Baba Yaga” breezed through the Matthews, the headiness of Ravelian rather than Debussian colours making for an exotic palette.
Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales then generated their own turbulence, the sort produced by sensuous swirling bodies. The problem was, though, that Adams, the conductor, slightly short-changed us on the swoon and salivation of these hedonistic morsels, failing to exploit through phrasing and rubato the full variety of pleasure that they offer. In short, they were rather stiffly, uniformly, despatched.