San Diego Symphony and Johannes Debus fabulous in enchanting evening of French music

Johannes Debus
San Diego Union-Tribune

One of the more annoying developments in classical music over the past few decades has been the compulsion to come up with a title for every concert program.

A program title isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it usually seems forced.

“We have two pieces by Tchaikovsky, one by Elgar, and one by Ravel on this concert. What should we call it? “

There’s a divide between educators and students in the classroom when it comes to digital learning.

“What do Elgar and Ravel have to do with Russia?”

“Who cares? It’s a great title!”

The San Diego Symphony’s concert Saturday evening was dubbed “Fabulous France,” and this time, there was truth in advertising. Conductor Johannes Debus led the orchestra in enchanting, effervescent performances of works by Rameau, Ravel, Fauré and Debussy.

Debus had straightforward podium technique that produced a wealth of details, especially impressive in the busier music of Ravel (his “Piano Concerto in G Major”) and Debussy (“Ibéria”).

Pianist Louis Lortie joined the orchestra for a dazzling rendition of Ravel’s sassy concerto. In the outer movements, Lortie’s articulation was clear. Rapid passagework crackled to giddy effect.

The inner movement is the most sublimely beautiful music Ravel ever composed, unusual in his keyboard output for being technically easy. It’s also completely exposed, with the orchestra not joining in for a good three minutes. Lortie captured the elegant poetry of this movement, from the opening solo to those delicious diatonic embellishments above the opening theme when it returns in the English horn. Andrea Overturf carried the tune there with a forlornly lovely tone.
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