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Post Reviews: Festival brought alive through Gallic flair but lacking passion in the final reckoning; Cecile Ousset Courtyard Theatre, Hereford Festival Chorus Hereford Cathedral.

As this year's Three Choirs Festival approached its conclusion, host city Hereford produced one of its trump cards with a visit from the enchanting French pianist Cecile Ousset.

Yesterday afternoon's all-Gallic recital (we can call Chopin an honorary Frenchman) was given in Hereford's splendidly comfortable and visually attractive Courtyard Theatre, though the haphazard catering here need accept no plaudits.

Playing with perfectly proportioned tone on NFMS Midlands' excellent Steinway, Ousset etched a clear and communicative interplay of voices for a Chopin group opening with the Polonaise-Fantaisie and continuing with three Waltzes, melodic lines singing and with ballroom visions often very close.

Ravel's dancers in hisValses nobles et sentimentales are decidedly more puppet-like, with a succession of almost visual images.

Ousset's reading was one of well-marshalled strength, elegant fingers probingly percussive along the way, before arriving at an Epilogue of magical nostalgia.

This pictorial emphasis also informed intelligent, refined accounts of Debussy's first set of Images, Ousset's sculpting of the sound-images in

Reflets dans l'eau making it a La Mer in miniature, and Mouvement ending with a witty grin which will be missed by Radio 3 listeners who tune in to hear it tomorrow (at 1pm).

More cerebral stuff came with Faure's Schumannesque Theme and Variations, noble and touching, and with exemplary balance between the

hands displayed by this understatedly remarkable pianist.

The frothy but showy nonsense of Saint-Saens' Etude-Toccata made an effective curtain-closer; Debussy's Feux d'Artifice provided an equally virtuosic encore with much more musical substance.

Far soberer matters filled last night, with Elgar's Dream of Gerontius in what used to be its traditional place as the work bringing every Three Choirs Festival to its close.

Organist of Hereford Cathedral, Roy Massey, conducted, setting well-judged speeds which fitted the acoustics of this venerable building to a nicety.

Yet for all his obvious love of the work, Massey's reading emerged as something of a passionless one, drawing from the excellent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra playing which remained little more than dutifully efficient.

Adrian Thompson's Gerontius showed similar symptoms in an interpretation which combined musical intelligence and great beauty of tone but which was under-characterised.

The other soloists fared better, Catherine Wyn Rogers a calmly radiant, consoling Angel, and James Rutherford stunningly authoritative in his bass contributions.

And the Festival Chorus was magnificent, tone wonderfully blended and incisive of diction.

Christopher Morley
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Author:Morley, Christopher
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 26, 2000
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