CBSO/The Labeque Sisters Play Poulenc at Symphony Hall

On February 8, 2013 |
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By Christopher Morley

Mozart and Poulenc are surely getting on remarkably well in the great upstairs, such kindred spirits are they. High-spirited, melancholy, tender, lyrical and occasionally cocking snooks, their music takes us into realms where fantasy becomes reality.

And last week’s dream of a CBSO programme dovetailed works by each of them which expressed the quintessence of what they are all about, both of them concertos for two pianos.

There could be no more adept performers of these wonderful works than Katia and Marielle Labeque, siblings (as were Mozart and his sister Nannerl, who premiered the Salzburg piece), and Parisiennes, capturing all of the Poulenc’s street-cred (Mozart with Gallic dust on his shoes).

Nicholas McGegan was the conductor, bubbling with geniality and enjoying every minute of his collaboration with the sparky sisters.

The Mozart was so marvellously well-turned, the Labeques empathetic in huge unison trills and scales handed over in mid-run, the joy of this fabulous music leaping from every bar, though some grudging wind chording at the beginning of the serenade-like slow movement will not have sounded too good on the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast.

Slightly too hectic a tempo was set for the opening of the Poulenc, bustling just a little too fast, though we had time to relish eloquent tone from the sisters’ thumbs, and to admire the glacial harmonics from Eduardo Vassallo’s cello.

Subsequent movements were similarly hard-driven, even the gorgeous, unashamedly Mozartean larghetto. The Ravel encore would have been lovely were it not for the exhibitionist hair-tossing piano-bashing of one of the sisters – no names, no pack-drill.

Poulenc had begun the evening with the pastiche of his Suite Francaise, some noble delivery from the CBSO brass. And the CBSO brass brought an unexpected frisson to Mozart’s Symphony no.39 in E-flat, with natural trumpets biting through the textures.

McGegan positively waltzed through the first movement, released an andante which I wish could have gone on forever, and progressed to a bustling finale which set off fireworks of joy.