Feature review – Mieczysław Weinberg: Between East and West (Quatuor Danel)

Quatuor Danel [Marc Danel & Gilles Millet (violins), Vlad Bogdanas (viola), Yovan Markovitch (cello)], Michelle Assay (piano), Roberto Carrillo-Garcia  (double bass), Rosalind Dobson (soprano), David Fanning (piano)

Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall @ Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
University of Manchester

Thursday 24th – Sunday 27th January 2019

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The 17 string quartets of Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) barely featured in more general discussion until recently, when the extent of their achievement has gradually become evident. Central to this has been the advocacy of the Quatuor Danel, whose integral recording (for the CPO label) during 2006-09 was followed by several live renditions before this one – given as part of the Weinberg: East and West conference co-convened by Prof David Fanning and Dr Michelle Assay and supported by the British Academy and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Although a science-based institution, Manchester University has an active music department and, in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, a venue second to none for chamber performance – its spacious yet immediate acoustic ideally suited for the resourceful ensemble textures in which these string quartets abound. Weinberg is still often (and erroneously) referred to as a protégé of Shostakovich, but this cycle stands as the continuation of the lineage that takes in Beethoven and Bartók, and which itself represents a highpoint of European musical culture.

The cycle was launched on Thursday lunchtime. From a time when his career path was of a pianist, the ambition of the First Quartet (1937) is the more remarkable – doubtless a reason Weinberg subjected it to radical revision in 1985; refining its youthful awkwardness without diluting that heady aura indebted to Bartók and Szymanowski. The Danel assuredly captured its three movements’ emotional turmoil, wistful introspection then driving energy; the mature composer emerging in the finale, with its folk-inflections and teasing fragmentation towards the close.

The Second Quartet (1940) evinces greater formal and expressive poise; Weinberg revised it in 1986 as well as recasting it as his First Chamber Symphony. It remains one of his most appealing works, though the Danel’s impulsiveness prevented the first movement from seeming too ingratiating; an approach continued in an alternately contemplative and eruptive Adagio, then a quizzical intermezzo and tautly robust finale. Greater expressive freedom and rhythmic impetus, as compared to the recordings, was evident in most of these performances.

Thursday evening commenced with the Third Quartet (1944). Its uncompromising language is pursued across three movements (played without pause) that make inventive play with formal archetypes – whether the intensive sonata process in the initial Allegro, restive transformation of ideas over the slow movement’s ternary format or fugitive understatement of a final rondo which even the Danel could not prevent from feeling overly provisional. The Fourth Quartet (1945) is a more rounded achievement – its expansive trajectory leavening the tonal asperities of its predecessor with a long term tonal evolution that takes in the broadly paced momentum of the opening Allegro, through a motoric scherzo of irresistible rhythmic drive then a Largo whose funereal gait could hardly be taken out of context, to a finale whose blithe optimism is tempered by the pain of experience well before its stark closing gesture. Even more than on its recording, the Danel convincingly brought off this minor-key elision and did ample justice to a piece which ought to have communicated Weinberg’s name outside of the Soviet Union.

After the interval came the Fifth Quartet (1945). Appreciably different in its scale and scope, while continuing Weinberg’s intently evolving mastery of the medium, this proceeds from a wistfully ambivalent ‘Melodia’, via a drily amusing ‘Humoreska’ then a propulsive ‘Scherzo’ whose unbridled élan was unerringly conveyed here. The musing ‘Improvisation’ finds this work’s textural sparseness at its most tangible, before a ‘Serenata’ rounds off the whole with an equivocation which Shostakovich subsequently put to productive use in his own quartets.

Friday lunchtime began understatedly with the limpid Aria (1942) and laconically humorous Capriccio (1943), written in Tashkent on either side of the First Symphony, and which offer ready-made encores. Whether they were heard at this time is uncertain, but the Sixth Quartet (1946) went unheard for six decades until the present ensemble brought it to light and ranks among Weinberg’s salient masterpieces – one whose content is as distinctive as it is personal. Not the least its distinguishing factor is the way its six movements are dovetailed towards a satisfying yet by no means integrated whole – initiated by the quixotic opening Allegro, then intensified by a coursing Presto and explosive Allegro – these latter two ‘bleeding’ into each other – before a gaunt Adagio which seems in search of its underlying theme; then a troubled intermezzo then provides breathing space for the increasingly fractious course determined by the finale. A work that makes a virtue of its equivocation to an unnerving degree, the Danel responding with technical finesse and emotional insight that reinforced its intrinsic greatness.

Friday evening opened with the Seventh Quartet (1957). Coming after more than a decade, it might appear a pragmatic response to the post-Stalin era, yet there is nothing of compromise in this work (first of at least five Weinberg quartets to be premiered by the Borodin Quartet). Hardly its least achievement is the follow-through of its movements from a preludial Adagio of subdued eloquence, via an intermezzo with its structural (as opposed to anecdotal) use of klezmer inflections and which became an unexpected encore, to a finale whose implacable opening and close frame a theme and 23 variations of prodigious inventiveness and resource: qualities abundantly in evidence as the Danel rendered its quasi-palindromic design with a conviction and expressive breadth that ideally needed the interval to be placed afterwards.

Instead the ensemble continued directly with the Eighth Quartet (1959), first of Weinberg’s single-movement designs that artfully conceals a two-part format. Its initial unfolding from ruminative Adagio to wistful Andante and back is intensified through the intervention of a limpid Allegretto and a brusque Allegro, before the initial stasis is tentatively regained. The Danel conveyed this with an inevitability which could hardly be gainsaid. After the interval, the Ninth Quartet (1963) opens with an Allegro of a tensile velocity unequalled in his output – its energy spilling over into a sardonic intermezzo, while the ensuing Andante undercuts the poise of its would-be passacaglia with episodes of rhapsodic inertness, before a finale whose motivation seems destined to end in uncertainty. Again, an account of real insight, the Danel returning to give the first performance of Two Pieces from 1950 and only recently relocated – their respective charm and nonchalance indicative of Weinberg’s desire to write accessible music of integrity at a time when his concert output could hardly have gained much exposure.

Saturday lunchtime began with the Tenth Quartet (1964), its four movements complementing rather than conflicting with each other. Thus, the solemn opening movement finds its natural progression in a speculative scherzo; one to which a tersely declamatory Adagio itself makes possible the faux-repetition and ultimate equivocation of the finale. Mindful of the semantic connection with those comparable works in Shostakovich’s own cycle, the Danel duly opted for a flexible, nuanced approach both here and in the Eleventh Quartet (1966). In the latter, continuity is taken further across four movements which abound in motivic pre-echoes and allusions – the furtive scampering of the first movement followed by a teasingly refractory intermezzo, then a soloistic Adagio makes way for a finale whose waltz inflected progress cannot prevent the return of the opening from seeming fateful rather than inevitable. Never superficial, the Danel maintained coherence throughout while not overlooking the degree to which this piece holds the key to the elliptical inscrutability of those quartets that followed.

Any such ‘late’ style is amply confirmed by the Twelfth Quartet (1970), standing in solitary splendour within the context of Weinberg’s cycle. It effectively rewrites the rulebook as to how four movements are brought together in a diverse yet integrated whole. Serial elements extend the instrumental discourse, as does the incorporation of timbres and textures recalling those Weinberg surely encountered at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1966. Such are evident in the initial Largo, its impassive unfolding disrupted by flurries of activity towards its centre, while the Allegretto abounds in acerbic gestures that hasten a disconsolate end; from where the Presto surges to a climax of unremitting savagery. The final Moderato is left to negotiate motivic fragmentation and disjunctive exchanges prior to the most disconcerting conclusion in the quartet literature. The Danel conveyed the fullest extent of this wresting of continuity from change, then returned for another first – a combative scherzo intended for the Seventh Quartet that Weinberg (rightly) discarded as likely to detract from the majesty of its finale.

On to Saturday evening and the Thirteenth Quartet (1977) once again takes up the concept of a single movement. Here, though, the constituents of its sonata design are interspersed with episodes akin to scherzo and slow movement, the overall structure infused with a cumulative intensity that, allied to the increased usage of extended playing techniques, gives this music a rebarbative quality which is hardly sublimated by the anguished close. The Danel duly made the most of this discomforting piece, nor was there any lack of commitment in the Fourteenth Quartet (1978). Its five continuous movements do not so much progress as lurch forwards from the edgily austere first movement, by way of its sombrely impassive successor, then a scherzo and intermezzo which are not so much elusive as disembodied, to a finale in which any attempt at an overall synthesis gradually falls away to reveal a wanly resigned ending; one whose inherent fatalism is arguably more dismaying as it withdraws into virtual silence, as if to suggest that Weinberg’s self-communing is essentially a defence – even an escape.

The Fifteenth Quartet (1979) may be less stark in outcome but is the most radical of all these works in formal design. Its nine relatively brief movements are interpretable in various ways – but a highly oblique sonata design is implied by the aggressive ‘development’ of the central three movements, framed by respectively angular and thrusting ‘transitions’, then surrounded in turn by a two-part ‘exposition’ of almost secretive inwardness; itself balanced by a ‘reprise’ whose incrementally wider expression facilitates an eventual, albeit tenuous, sense of closure.

Sunday afternoon brought the cycle to its close. The Sixteenth Quartet (1981) is inscribed to the memory of Weinberg’s sister in what would have been her sixtieth year; this, along with the outwardly conventional four movements, affords a sense of rapprochement – though the initial Allegro feels anything but predictable in its discursive sonata design, while the gritty scherzo enfolds a trio of ethereal remoteness. A highly austere slow movement (a passacaglia in intention if not in execution) hints at more lyrical expression given fuller rein as the finale builds on its waltz-inflected main theme to a short-lived climax which, in turn, makes way for a becalmed postlude. This recalls earlier ideas before reaching a close whose gentle radiance transcends the age-old distinction between depth and profundity with the deftest of touches.

The Danel realized this to perfection, as it did the very different Seventeenth Quartet (1986) with its affirmation rare in Weinberg’s later music. This also marks a final engagement with one-movement form; its energetic Allegros serving as exposition and development, then as development and reprise, between which are a recitative-like Andantino and aria-like Lento. Transitions are provided by vibrant solos and the whole capped by a coda of real optimism – tangibly conveyed in this effervescent account which also made a fitting close to the cycle.

Following the interval, David Fanning (above) joined the Danel for a ‘40-minute encore’ in the Piano Quintet (1944) that is Weinberg’s earliest masterpiece and was to remain one of his defining works. Securing momentum over the whole is never easy, but Fanning’s deft understatement ensured a steady build-up from the speculative opening Moderato, via an agitated Allegretto, to the sardonic Presto; after which, the expansive Largo exuded real eloquence without undue rhetoric before the combative final Allegro that culminated in a coda of furtive anticipation.

Interspersed within this cycle were two other recitals. Friday afternoon saw Rosalind Dobson (above) and Michelle Assay (above with David Fanning) repeat their account (after its world premiere in November) of Old Letters (1962), eight romances after Julian Tuwim. The length and only incremental expressive range meant this sequence felt too long for a collection while too unvaried for a cycle; its highlight being a setting of ‘Lorelei’ the more affecting for its brevity. Not that this performance lacked anything in characterization, Dobson and Assay returning for two settings of an untitled poem by Alexander Blok: as ‘Dedication’ this forms the wistful opening of Weinberg’s Beyond the Threshold of Past Days (1951), and, as ‘Music’ the eloquent finale of Shostakovich’s Seven Romances (1967) – for which latter they were joined by Marc Danel and Yovan Markovitch.

Saturday afternoon brought two of the solo sonatas from Weinberg’s later years. Whether or not publicly performed in the composer’s lifetime, the Double Bass Sonata (1971) has since established itself in an admittedly select repertoire for the instrument. Certainly, it could have no more committed an advocate than Roberto Carrillo-Garcia (above), who rendered the six-movement amalgam of elements derived from suite and sonata with consummate insight and panache – repeating its propulsive finale to considerable acclaim. The Sixth Piano Sonata (1960) avoids overt display, but this equivocal take on the ‘prelude and fugue’ archetype makes absorbing listening, not least when Michelle Assay brought out the sombre poise of its Adagio then the contrapuntal intricacy and cumulative energy of its final Allegro to such an engaging degree.

Thursday afternoon also brought a fascinating presentation by Dr Daniel Elphick, who has reconstructed the original versions of the First and Second Quartets – the former being the subject of his lecture-recital which revealed the teenage Weinberg as fully aware of current developments; not least the climax of its slow movement, when that of the ‘Largo desolato’ from Berg’s Lyric Suite loomed startlingly into focus. Hopefully it will be possible to hear these original versions before too long – maybe as a recorded appendix to the Danel’s cycle.

The conference itself featured a dozen papers by scholars drawn from across Europe, as well as Australia, Russia, the UK and the US. Most of these should become available online in due course, and it is to be hoped publication will ensue. Mention should also be made of a Skype interview with Weinberg’s elder daughter Victoria Bishops that shed light on the composer’s middle decades, and a flying visit from Gidon Kremer (whose Kremerata Baltica focusses on Weinberg in his centenary year) for a brief recital and speech on the importance of this music.

Overall, this conference offered valuable context for appreciating the quartet cycle. Assessing Weinberg’s quartets surely centres on the underlying premise of a composer concerned with building on the achievements of the past rather than with breaking new ground – from which perspective, his finest quartets are defining examples of what the genre is capable of yielding, and in an age that most often seems unfavourable to abstract musical thought. Clearly this is a cycle which is relevant to present-day composers and listeners alike: as and when it makes its way into wider public consciousness, this will have been made possible by the Quatuor Danel.

Further information about Quatuor Danel can be found at their website. Meanwhile Daniel Elphick’s Weinberg blog can be found here

You can listen to the Quatuor Danel’s Weinberg cycle below:

The Favourite Soundtrack – listen here

Happy New Year!

One of the most hotly anticipated film releases of this New Year 2019 is The Favourite. Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne, supported by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as part of a starry cast to tell a tragi-comic tale around the life of the 18th century English monarch.

The score of this colourful, moving and often hilarious film is full to the brim with classical music – so as the release of the official soundtrack is a few weeks away, here is a playlist of the musical numbers. From Purcell‘s incredibly moving Music For A While to Messiaen‘s thundering Jésus accepte la souffrance (Jesus accepts suffering) by way of small-scale Schubert and Schumann, it contains some absolute gems!

Prom 69 – Baiba Skride, Boston SO / Andris Nelsons – Bernstein Serenade & Shostakovich Symphony no.4

Prom 69 Baiba Skride (violin, below), Boston Symphony OrchestraAndris Nelsons (above)

Bernstein Serenade (after ‘Symposium’) (1954)
Shostakovich Symphony no.4 in C minor Op.43 (1936)

Royal Albert Hall, Monday 3 September 2018

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

You can listen to this Prom on the BBC Proms website here

The second of the Boston Symphony’s Proms, with its music director Andris Nelsons, offered a pertinent coupling which played to this orchestra’s strengths, while also suggesting that the interpretive insights of this much-lauded partnership are by no means to be taken for granted.

Time was when Bernstein’s Serenade was something of a rarity in live performance, but what is surely its composer’s most successful piece for the concert hall had come into its own well before the onset of his centenary celebrations. This sequence inspired by (though not indebted to) Plato’s consideration of Love in his Symposium was a gift on which Bernstein seized with alacrity, condensing its seven eulogies into five movements such as amount to a varied while cohesive totality to which he aspired without equalling in the concert music of his later years.

Baiba Skride proved a sympathetic exponent, segueing deftly from the lyricism of Phaedrus to the incisiveness of Pausanias and savouring the whimsical irony of Aristophanes. The fussiness of Erixymachus was pertly done and eloquence of Agathon not unduly emotive, for all its expansiveness; the finale almost achieving unity in the rumination of Socrates as overtaken by the ebullience of Alcibiades. Nelsons secured an engaging response from the reduced strings, while keeping some over-effusive percussion writing within sensible limits.

A pity that the sizable audience was not ideally attentive, suggesting that Bernstein as concert composer was less to its liking than when in ‘musical’ mode. It seemed rather more focussed for Shostakovich’s Symphony no.4 – an era-defining piece kept under wraps for a quarter-century after its completion, before gradually making its way into the 20th-century repertoire where it has been ever since. Subversive and despairing in equal measure, it duly received a commanding account where the BSO conveyed both visceral power and fastidious ensemble.

Were these the deciding factors of a great performance, this would assuredly have been one. Yet behind the formidable technical façade was a lack of empathy with this most emotionally charged of symphonies, not least a first movement whose stark alternations of Stravinskian energy and Mahlerian anguish Nelsons drew into a formally unified if expressively uniform whole. With its subtler pivoting between anxiety and elegance, the central intermezzo was finely rendered, even if its closing percussion ostinato was neither sardonic nor speculative.

Come the finale and Nelsons found an ideal tempo for its opening funeral march, though its overtones of heroism and plangency felt passed over on the way into a toccata section which lacked cumulative intensity for all its incisiveness. The ensuing divertimento gave several of the orchestra’s principals their moment in the spotlight that they took with panache, then the entry of duelling timpani was clumsily prepared going into a peroration as was imposing but never inexorable; the postlude which follows one of somnolence rather than numbed despair.

As so often this season, there was no encore – Nelsons purposely extending the silence at the close of the Shostakovich as its own epitaph. It set the seal on a lucidly conceived and superbly executed reading that yet missed out on what makes this piece an experience like few others.

BBC Proms: BBC Singers / Sakari Oramo – Songs of Farewell and Laura Mvula premiere

Proms at the Cadogan Hall: BBC Singers (above) / Sakari Oramo (below)

Bridge Music, when soft voices die (1907)
Vaughan Williams Rest (1902)
Holst Nunc dimittis (1915)
Laura Mvula Love Like A Lion (2018, world premiere)
Parry Songs of Farewell (1913-15)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 20 August 2018

You can listen to this Prom by clicking here The times given on this page refer to the starting times on the broadcast itself

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

Over the last couple of decades the Monday lunchtime strand of the BBC Proms concerts have gone from strength to strength, and the 2018 season looks like being an especially good vintage. English song has fared particularly well, and on the heels of Dame Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton’s imaginative recital, here was a choral selection based around rest, sleep and departure.

To be more specific, the form of rest composers Bridge, Vaughan Williams, Holst and Parry had in mind was the Eternal form. Frank Bridge wrote Music when soft voices die (from 1:49 on the broadcast) as his entry for a magazine competition, Vaughan Williams set the text of Rest (6:33) as a deeply felt short song, while Gustav Holst’s setting of the Nunc Dimittis (10:49), made in 1915, was resurrected for publication by his daughter Imogen in 1979.

Pride of place, however, went to Sir Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell, one of the crowning glories of his output. Rarely performed as a cycle, this series of unaccompanied motets, completed late in the composer’s life and in the shadow of the First World War, marks some of Parry’s deepest thoughts on mortality. They are every bit as profound in today’s world as they would have been then, and an attentive audience in the Cadogan Hall evidently took plenty from this interpretation.

Sakari Oramo has experience as a choral conductor but this was his first outing with the BBC Singers. He led them in a direct, unfussy manner, shaping the phrases while recognising this experienced group already have the tools at their disposal to make a beautiful sound.

Parry constructed the cycle so that his part writing gains density as the songs unfold, moving from four parts through to eight by the final Lord, let me know thine end.
Oramo took us on that progression with a gradual increase of intensity, helped by purity of tone and unanimity of voice. My soul, there is a country (29:09) began as a lighter, thoughtful account, building in intensity, the parts moving closely together. I know my soul hath power to know all things (32:53) was notable as much for its expressive pauses between words, Oramo’s direction ensuring a tight-knit ensemble. Some of Parry’s musical phrases are of considerable length, but the BBC Singers took them in their stride.

The density grew, from five parts (the beautiful Never weather-beaten sail, 38:35) to six (There is an old belief, ) then seven (a hypnotic account of All round the earth’s imagined corners, 43:15) to ultimately eight (Lord, let me know mine end, 50:04). This was the apex of the performance, notable for its calm acceptance of the final days of life, and in the closing pages the BBC Singers portrayed Parry facing his ultimate departure with an incredibly moving dignity.

The whole concert was structured rather like the Parry cycle, beginning from the small but poignant songs from Vaughan Williams and Bridge. The BBC Singers were excellent, with beautiful phrasing, and a surprise was in store for the Holst. Often the Nunc Dimittis is a softly voiced counterpoint to the Magnificat, but this one grew from small beginnings to become a forceful statement, delivered with impressive surety.

And so to Laura Mvula’s three-part work Love Like A Lion (12:58), written to a commission by the BBC but charting rest and loss in a rather different way. The loss here was a relationship, causing intense pain in Like A Child but with acceptance given in I Will Nor Die (For Him) (20:30), with a penetrating solo from Helen Neeves (21:08) over a gently undulating accompaniment that took us to a special, faraway place. Free from restrictions, Love Like a Lion itself (23:46) revelled in its new freedom, as did Sakari Oramo – who knows Mvula well from their Birmingham days. Love Like A Lion showed her ease with choral writing, and was a deeply expressive voyage from darkness to light. Hopefully we will hear more from her very soon.

Prom 44 – CBSO Choruses & Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot – Debussy, Ravel & Lili Boulanger

Prom 44 Justina Gringytė (mezzo-soprano), CBSO Youth Chorus, CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot (above)

Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894)
Lili Boulanger Psalm 130 ‘Du fond de l’abîme’ (1914-17)
Debussy Nocturnes (1897-99)
Ravel Boléro (1928)

Royal Albert Hall, Wednesday 15 August 2018

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood Photo of CBSO (c) Upstream Photography

You can listen to this Prom on the BBC Proms website here

One of the BBC Proms’ most valuable undertakings this season is the music of Lili Boulanger (1893-1918). Her biggest choral work, a setting of Psalm 130 (Du fond de l’abîme) was the centrepiece of this enchanting concert from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Ludovic Morlot.

For once the Royal Albert Hall acoustic was ideally suited to the instrumentation of a piece, especially with the amount of detail lit up by this particular interpretation. Beginning with organ and lower strings that seemed to be positioned somewhere underground near the loading bay, the piece grew assuredly in stature and emotion, finding the nub of its text. The assembled throng of the CBSO Chorus sang as one, shaping Boulanger’s phrases beautifully while enjoying the harmonic twists and turns that give this piece – completed a year before its composer’s death – a distinctively modern turn.

Boulanger (above) was a friend of Debussy but had a tragically short-lived existence, dying from complications of illness at the age of 24. In that brief time she had already served notice as a composer of considerable invention, deep emotion and the ability to extend colour, harmony and melody in particular. All these things were on show in Psalm 130, the performance notable for its exquisite brush strokes.

The only problem was a difficulty in following the text itself from the arena. Although the right notes were undoubtedly there from the chorus, and mezzo-soprano Justina Gringytė was full of tone in her solo passages, the words themselves were difficult to grasp above the texture. Some of the blame for this could go to the Royal Albert Hall acoustic itself – and it certainly wasn’t at the expense of a quite wonderful piece that should occupy a much firmer place in the repertoire.

For the rest of the programme Morlot and his charges gave us popular Debussy and Ravel, beginning in the heat haze of Prélude à l’apres-midi d’un faune and ending with the minimalist Boléro. These pieces were fascinating to contrast, from Marie-Christine Zupancic’s languorous flute solo that led off the Debussy – beautifully played – to the insistent, temple-knocking side drum of Adrian Spillett in the ubiquitous Boléro. Morlot paced both to perfection, giving us a chance in the Ravel to indulge in Matthew Knight’s trombone solo but also bringing out the Spanish rhythms and colour that make the piece a riot. He brought percussion section leader Spillett to the stage for a well-deserved curtain call at the end.

Before Boléro we were treated to the exquisite Nocturnes of Debussy – which would have been even more exquisite were it not for a barrage of coughing around the hall. Still, that did not completely harm a sensuously shaded account of Nuages (Clouds), the first Nocturne, whose softly oscillating chords left their understated mark, before the second and much quicker Fêtes (Festivals) ran lightly on its feet. The central procession episode of this pictorial movement was brilliantly paced by Morlot, with a hallucinogenic effect achieved through to muted trumpets, distant horns and wide open string textures.

While these two movements were special the concluding Sirènes (Sirens) was bewitching, fusing women’s voices and orchestra in an innovative combination that predates Holst’s The Planets by some 20 years. The CBSO Youth Choir were superb here, singing as one and hitting the high notes without fear – and without compromising the colour Debussy so clearly strives for. Morlot portrayed the vast, wide open scope of the sea – but also seemed to be looking beyond, casting his gaze far into space. This worked extremely well in the Royal Albert Hall, though perhaps quelling the coughers at the end was an even greater achievement!

This was an inspirational Prom, giving us familiar classics and the relatively unknown, boosting the profile of Lili Boulanger while reasserting the claims of Debussy and Ravel to be masters of their field. French classical music at its finest.