‘Unforgettable’: François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles in Edinburgh
François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles made their Edinburgh International Festival debut last week to outstanding audience and press reactions, performing Lili Boulanger’s cantata Faust et Hélène and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in its original 1913 version. The performance will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 16 September at 7.30pm BST and remain online for a month. Here are some of the critics’ comments.
‘Roth and his musicians scraped a century of performance practice off Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and reminded us why it sounded so astonishingly curious to its first audiences... The winds of the opening, rumbling like the growl of an angry animal, created a texture of alienating strangeness, while the wiry strings and rasping brass added a layer of weirdness that was all the more powerful because of its clarity. Roth conducted the whole thing with a lightness of touch and precision of gesture that made one remember that this is ballet music, and he carefully controlled the unfolding drama so that the narrative retained its power... Roth controlled the sound with persuasive affection, shaping the cleanest orchestral playing I’ve heard all festival — and perhaps for considerably longer.’
‘Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring changed the course of musical history: discuss. After experiencing this extraordinary Festival performance by the specialist French orchestra Le Siècles, under its founder and conductor François-Xavier Roth, there doesn’t seem much point anymore. In just over half-an-hour of terrorising magic they sold us Stravinsky’s infamous 1913 ballet score in a way that few, if any, have before. Not a second passed where we weren’t glued to the edge of our seats... The characterful lucidity with which Stravinsky’s myriad of entangled motifs emerged – again those juicy period instruments – was a kaleidoscopic revelation, adding to the unstoppable electrifying energy of the performance. Dynamic contrasts were fearsome in the extreme. Even the dramatic silences crackled with knife-edge tension and feverish anticipation. No question, Les Siècles’s Rite of Spring will go down in the annals of Festival history as simply unforgettable.’
‘From the soft high bassoon opening, Roth balanced his players perfectly, allowing solos and colouring to emerge, be it piercing clarinet, the low buzz of the reedy bassoon growls or spectral alto flute. The period instruments from only just over a century ago were a revelation, often mellower than their modern counterparts, their distinctive timbres considerably richer and certainly earthier as the dancing rhythms built raw energy and excitement... Roth conducted with sheer joy, moving between the uneasy tense calm of the slow introductions and silences, notching up the chaos with snappy rhythmic thuds in a whirlwind of pulsing strings and crashing chords. The extensive brass blazed, two Wagner tubas briefly adding piquancy to the heady mix and the four percussionists almost shook the building. This was a breathtaking, powerful and exuberant performance – no riots in Edinburgh, but a very excited audience.’
‘Hearing [Lili Boulanger’s Faust et Hélène] from French orchestra Les Siècles with their founding conductor, François-Xavier Roth, was a revelation. Performing on instruments of the period (something this orchestra does across Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern eras) gave authentic depth of colour to the brooding timbres as the tableau scene with Faust, Mephistopheles and the beautiful Hélène unfolds. It’s utterly ravishing music, conducted with almost balletic gracefulness from Roth... Likewise, Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring was dramatic all the way. Earthy, gripping, with visceral biting rhythms, it’s got to be a highlight of this year’s Festival.’
‘It was, without exaggeration, a knock-out. Where successive exponents have found virtue enough in The Rite’s unnerving, sidestepping rhythmic propulsion, the mystical primitivism of its Russian folksong derivations, or the cataclysmic violence of its harmonic friction, Roth not only brought these together in an electrifying display of utter completeness, but did so with intense, penetrating forensic insight.’