What's the best way to judge a concert, asks Nick Shave, after going to the Orchestre National de France's Prom
‘Disappointing. B-.’ Can I write this about the Orchestre National de France’s performance of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune under Daniele Gatti?
Or how about ‘Better. B+’ for their performance of Debussy's La mer, and ‘Well Done. B++’ for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, but with a heavy ring around its ‘Dance of the Earth’: ‘greater attention to rhythmic detail needed here!’ Or does this all sound just a touch too didactic?
I only ask because after this concert on Tuesday a friend – not normally prone to autism – set about rating his experience with ‘three… no, three and a half out of five’ stars. How remarkable, I thought, that the human brain is capable of translating an experience of hearing three era-defining pieces of Modernist music into just three and a half symbols. But surely there are better ways to critique concerts?
Given Debussy’s Prelude is a Symbolist creation, perhaps reviewers should be exploring sensory associations – smells or colours to evoke the concert experience. So that would be beige for the faune. Where was the magical hush, the sensuousness, the feeling that this evocation of dreamy correspondences had kick-started Modernism with its daringly unanchored chromaticism? The players seemed to be experiencing déjà vu.
Or perhaps weather symbols could offer a more accurate metaphor: sun with light cloud for La mer, for example, which discovered that sense of fluidity and colour that the faune’s slow-tempo afternoon lacked, and more sparkle when required. And sunshine with the occasional shower for an exciting Rite. That Daniele Gatti conducted without a score surely merits an additional ray of sunshine, even if it brought on a front of low pressure towards the end of the first Section.
In fact, where’s the technology when you need it? Scratch and sniff this screen, and it should come up smelling of roses.
Prom 71: Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune; La mer; Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Orchestre National de France/Daniele Gatti
Nick Shave is a freelance music writer, critic, and contributing editor to BBC Music Magazine. He has spent many happy summers reviewing the Proms, but is still prone to a loss of bearings when choosing the quickest way round the Royal Albert Hall.