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Lalo gets some expert help from cellist Edgar Moreau with the LSO, plus the rest of January's classical concerts

01.22.18
Edgar Moreau
The Telegraph

The London Symphony Orchestra has always had a flair for French orchestral magic, and this year it's playing to that strength by taking on the gifted and intelligent François-Xavier Roth as Principal Guest Conductor. He's passionate about those fluffy late 19th-century French composers we're meant to despise, like Jules Massenet, who once described his own music as "entertainment for tired businessmen", and Édouard Lalo, who laced his music with those picture-postcard evocations of Spain and the East that are now frowned on as "orientalism".

We heard both composers in the concert Roth conducted with the LSO last night, though it was actually Massenet who gave us the seductive, castanet-drenched Spanishisms, in the ballet suite from his opera Le Cid. However, the evening's main attraction was a recently discovered early piece by Debussy, the Première Suite d'Orchestre (First Orchestral Suite).

Hearing Debussy's piece in the company of these earlier composers was fascinating, as it reminded us just how much he owed to them. The opening movement Fête (Festival) had a delicious swaying waltz melody that wasn't so far from Massenet, and the final movement Cortège et Bacchanale (Procession and Bacchanale) had a soaring string melody for strings and cellos that could almost have come from a Tchaikovsky ballet.

Alongside these reminders of Debussy's musical roots were tantalising glimpses of the radical modernist he would become. The final movement briefly evoked the feeling of a procession approaching from afar, something he did much more effectively in his Nocturnes 15 years later. The first movement even opened a window onto the evanescent, twilight world of his ballet Jeux, composed 30 years later in 1913.

Roth was alert to all these fleeting moments, and made sure we noticed them. But he didn't downplay the passages of old-fashioned exuberant romanticism, in fact he relished them, as did the orchestra, which was on ravishing form. In all, it was a fascinating experience. The evening's other curiosity was the rarely-played Cello Concerto by Lalo. There were only flashes of the Mediterranean heat and charm of the Symphonie Espagnole, the one piece by Lalo most people know, but the brilliant young soloist Edgar Moreau certainly made the most of them. With his beautiful unforced tone, angelic purity of tuning and impeccable fast finger-work Moreau lightened the self-conscious seriousness of Lalo's piece and made it seem better than it really is. He is clearly a talent to watch.