MUSIC REVIEW : Orchestre and Dutoit Provide French Lesson


The cards were stacked, but this wasn’t cheating: the touring Orchestre National de France conducted by Charles Dutoit performing French classics by Berlioz and Debussy.

For anyone who knew this ensemble, this conductor and this repertoire, it looked like a foregone conclusion. The only real danger was if the participants took the night off and merely went through the motions of their extra-familiar challenge.

Friday night at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, the concert became a revelation of authoritative wonders, a display of unquestionable expertise, as if the musicians had prefaced their performance with a collective “OK, listen, this is the way it goes,” like some Parisian waiter correcting your French--but without the upturned nose.

They opened with an athletic burst in Berlioz’s “Le Corsaire” Overture, powering through its jagged course with smooth and muscular agility.


The 57-year-old Dutoit’s take on Debussy’s “La Mer” was thoroughly aggressive as well, stressing rhythm and drive over poetry and color. One might characterize it as cool if it hadn’t been so urgent.

Eliciting the expected clarity and detail from his orchestra, Dutoit refused to dawdle over transitions or to loll in the mists. In uniformly fast tempos, the orchestra played with a lean force and visceral brightness (though one noted some minor blemishes in execution) and dynamic changes sounded quick, tense and firm.

The “Symphonie Fantastique” emerged as everything it should be and not a jot more. That is, it never slouched into vulgarity. This was a propulsive and super-heated reading, but Dutoit got there not through any histrionic fakery or undue bombast, but through incisive rhythmic inflection, perfectly weighted instrumental balances and blends, and a dramatic sense of the (very) long line. The effect of Berlioz’s play of cross rhythms and stratified lyricism in this atmosphere was nothing short of startling.

Dutoit and orchestra played everything as if something was on the line. But when it came time for the bows, the conductor simply put one hand in his pocket and smiled mildly with the confidence of complete mastery. No doubts here.