Review: Orchestre National de Lille, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday, February 1, 2020

THE bonds that tie Leeds to Lille will have been strengthened following this thrilling concert given by the French city’s renowned symphony orchestra on its short UK tour. Alexandre Bloch, the orchestra’s dynamic young chief conductor briefly alluded to the Brexit Day symbolism of the occasion. His impassioned plea for such international musical exchanges to continue unabated, “because music brings nations together”, was cheered to the rafters.

Bloch wove the suite from Ravel’s Ma Mere L’Oye (Mother Goose) into a magic carpet of sound. A silvery duet for celeste and violin in the Fairy Garden tableau led into the grand orchestral apotheosis. Scaled down forces for Mother Goose expanded Into the full ninety piece orchestra for Debussy’s Iberia. Bloch’s scorching realisation of the central panel of Debussy’s triptych of Images for Orchestra conjured up a picture of sun drenched Andalusian days, intoxicating nights and the brilliance of the morning light.

The classical purity of Beethoven’s lyrical Piano Concerto No 4 in G delivered a respite from exotic French impressionism. Eric Lu effectively reprised his First Prize-winning performance of this concerto at the 2018 Leeds Piano Competition. The Massachusetts born pianist’s pensive opening movement, the delicate interplay of the sublime Andante movement, and his way of bathing the cascading solo cadenzas in light were hallmarks of a deeply felt interpretation.

The full forces again crowded the stage for Ravel’s choreographic poeme La Valse. A permanent extension of the apron stage into the alcoves would meet the spatial requirements of the largest orchestras and enhance the visual aspect from an audience perspective.

The maestro duly whipped up Ravel’s ominous waltz sequence to its apocalyptic climax and an audience clamour for more produced a glorious orgy of orchestral colour - the Feria (Festival) finale Of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnol.

Geoffrey Mogridge