This was an evening of French music and the full house included our bejewelled Lord Provost and his entourage.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was in its place and the choruses were in theirs when Stéphane Denève, the conductor, brought on Lisa Milne, the soprano who stood just above the percussion, and Christopher Maltman, the baritone sporting a canon’s white tie, who came to the front of the stage. The RSNO Chorus was on its feet first and by way of showing us we had two choruses, the RSNO Junior Chorus was then also directed to stand.
Gabriel Fauré spent many years as an organist and choir master at the fashionable Madeleine Church in the centre of Paris and was well used to standard fare of funeral requiems. In due course, and apparently for his own enjoyment, he wrote a requiem that was not as formal and religious but yet for a small orchestra in a church. Ten years later a symphonic version came along so that the work could be performed in concert halls.
Stéphane Denève planned to give us a compromise between the two versions by having the Junior Chorus singing with the adult sopranos and altos. It was his hope that this would help to express the liturgical aspect of the requiem. It did so marvellously and with such a lovely light touch. Funeral music fit for someone who had a twinkle in their eye perhaps. For a moment I closed my eyes and thought I was in church. All praise to the organist, the choruses, the soloists and the orchestra. There’s no doubt that Fauré’s Requiem in this guise must become a firm favourite in Edinburgh.
After the interval the conductor wished us a happy new year in his native language. With pride he asked us to be thinking of them when they perform the same concert in two days time in one of the most important musical centres of the world - Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
He prepared us for Roussel’s best known work, his Symphony No 3 and already recorded by Denève and the RSNO. Stéphane Denève and Albert Roussel were born in the same city, Tourcoing. Ravel’s La Valse might have been a waltz but not quite. It was written after the Great War but rejected as a ballet. Both pieces exercised every section of the Orchestra in busy and exciting music. The audience’s rapturous reception led to a Bizet encore.
It was a delightful evening and deservedly recorded for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on 20 January. One just wonders how the BBC will deal with the over-excited applause that came several long seconds before the baton was down at what should have been a religious silence at the end of the Requiem.
Event: Friday 15 January 2010 7.30 pm.