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Tokyo welcomes the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Takemitsu Memorial Hall
12/15/1998 -  
Messiaen: Un Sourire
Chausson: Poeme de l'amour et de la mer, opus 19
Saint-Saëns: Symphony Number 3 in C minor ("Organ Symphony"), opus 78

Françoise Pollet (mezzo-soprano, Chausson), Naomi Matsui (organ, Saint-Saëns)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Marek Janowski (conductor)

How long does an audience hold the silence as the last bar of a work fades way? Well . . . several very long and enrapt seconds when the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France is playing and the audience is that of the Tokyo 'Opera City' concert hall!

The French orchestra are in the midst of a highly successful tour of Asia taking them to Taipei, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Hong Kong. It was a great pleasure to hear them in an exciting and original programme - a pleasant respite from 15-odd December performances of Beethoven 9th!

Marek Janowski led off with a dreamy account of Messiaen's Smile (1989) demonstrating both the clarity of the orchestral sound and the shimmering beauty of its string section. The Chausson was a disappointment, despite some beautiful orchestral colouring. The mezzo-soprano, Françoise Pollet, began 'La fleur des eaux' ecstatically enough, but began to strain. Janowski launched into a surprisingly fast second section and she had trouble keeping up. She seemed to be accompanying the orchestra - rather than the other way round. Her voice did not 'take off' and the vocal line was not defined. Perhaps these songs are better sung by a soprano voice that can really soar over the orchestra ? Pollet coughed quite a lot when she was not singing, so perhaps she was not in the best of conditions.

Marek Janowski gave an inspiring account of the Saint-Saëns "Organ Symphony" that had warmth and energy, as well as an extraordinary transparency and precision of sound. Delivered in a near ideal acoustic, in a hall dominated both aurally and visually by an impressive organ, it was the triumph of the evening. The audience were delighted, clapping in unison to demand a series of encores : a Dvorak Slavonic dance (number 8?), a slow movement from one of Bizet's L'Arlesienne suites and the Brahms Hungarian Dance Number 1, all of them greeted with great enthusiasm. They would have had more if they had known how to get it!


About 'Opera City': Tokyo people call a flat a 'mansion', and an apartment block is often called a 'palace' so it should come as little surprise that 'Opera City' is also a hyperbole. It is not a city and it has nothing to do with opera (though Tokyo's new opera house at the New National Theatre is adjacent). [The name seems to have been successful at attracting leading corporations to rent office space in its 54 floor office tower.] It has two concert halls. The larger Takemitsu Memorial Hall has been open for about one year. Made of wood, stepped and vaulted, it looks somewhat like an ancient Egyptian temple.

Simon Holledge



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