Beautiful though Paris is, its suburbs can be grim: and an unlovely example is one at the far end of the Pont de Sèvres Metro line which has just been graced with the city’s latest, must-see cultural monument.
Standing on an island in the river, La Seine Musicale looks like a floating battleship but with a great glass dome at one end. For the most part it purveys mass entertainment, not unlike the O2 in London, with surroundings comparably forlorn. But being French it’s serious as well as populist, and has a smaller concert hall that’s home to a new orchestra called Insula: a reference to the island setting.
Insula is something special: a period-performance band that homes in on classical/romantic repertoire from the early to mid 19th century, and delivers it with a luminous, tactile warmth, in contrast to the chiselled clarity you tend to get from period bands. It’s generating a buzz in France. And so is its conductor Laurence Equilbey, a woman with a mission to revive the forgotten work of female composers from the past.
It’s a fashionable cause these days, albeit one that sometimes leaves you struggling to find the required enthusiasm for pieces that don’t always have enough to commend them beyond curiosity. But last week Equilbey offered an exception: a symphony, Louise Farenc’s No 3. Farenc’s achievement was to be a woman of significance in French musical life around 1847 when this piece was written, taking on Schumann and Mendelssohn at their own, distinctly Germanic, orchestral game; and in some respects beating them.
Some Requiems are terrifying (Verdi, Mozart), some disorienting (Britten, Berlioz), others more consoling (Fauré). John Rutter’s Requiem is very much in the business of consolation, handled with a sweetness that isn’t to all tastes but comes with an endearing, beautifully crafted lyricism. And it got the most beautiful of performances last week from a choir, the London Choral Sinfonia, whose name suggests stodgy amateur singers on the wrong side of 50 but actually attaches to a young, professional ensemble of impeccable technique and elegance.
Under conductor Michael Waldron, they were at St John’s, Smith Square singing a programme of soft-contemporary music by Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen and others that deserved a bigger audience than it pulled (perhaps it was the LCS name). But the Requiem stood out: I’ve rarely heard it sung with so much care or love. It glowed. I wallowed.
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