Usher Hall, Edinburgh
"Ladies et gentlemen‚ good evening." And there it was, with just a split-second more gravitas than usual – Stéphane Denève's trusty opener delivered from the Usher Hall podium for the last time. This week, the French conductor steps down after seven years as music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
"It's my final concert so I can do what I want!" he beamed, and re-emerged in a kilt. He punted his new website, posed with his wife, showed off his German language skills learned in his new job as chief conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. There was gushy rhetoric aplenty. Fondest memories of the orchestra? Looking them in the eyes. Favourite thing about Scotland? His Scottish-born daughter. Final message for the audience? "Je vous aime!"
Never one shy to play the Gallic card, Denève's final programme was a fair summation of his years with the orchestra. The tenure began with Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite No 2 and ended with the full ballet score; there were moments of blistering sound and shimmering strings, but quiet passages lost focus and the hour-long span sagged. Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel was cheerful but routine; James MacMillan's Britannia – a splice-happy mangle of football whistles, Scottishisms, Elgar quotations and cloying strings – sounded black-and-white brash.
Lately, Denève has tended to keep his beat square and go for dynamic headlines. It works for short party pieces, but doesn't support long form or nuance. Still, he leaves the RSNO in considerably better nick than he found it. The sound is more lithe, supple and glossy thanks to his extensive work on the French repertoire. Audiences have swelled, and they gave him a long standing ovation. Successor Peter Oundjian takes up the baton in September.
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