several glories of French music were featured in the first half of last night's concert by the Orchestra of Toulouse in the Kennedy Center.
Michel Plasson, the orchestra's music director, spurned more conventional openers to begin the evening with music that was not surpassed in either quality or execution by anything that followed. It was the suite of four pieces written by Gabriel Faure for Maeterlinck's "Pelleas et Melisande." The musicians produced sounds of a shadowy beauty whose texture conjured up exquisite images while ravishing woodwind solos competed for highest honors.
Ravel's G Major Piano Concerto came next, with Philippe Entremont as soloist. Against and over some very breezy orchestral playing that had just the right kind of saucy bite, Entremont offered his customary elegance in style and a glittery tone that suited Ravel's sophistication.
For the haunting slow movement, he shifted smoothly into that mood that should be matched with champagne. The orchestra followed him with whispered sounds that suggested candlelight.
After intermission, Plasson introduced to Washington the most recent composition of Serge Nigg, a disciple of Oliver Messiaen, who has recently succeeded his former professor at the National Superior Academy of Music in Paris. The music is called "A Million Golden Birds," after a line of poetry by Rimbaud. The program notes suggest that the music has a "climate of torpid rapture." There is little in the 14-minute music that is torpid and much that could qualify as rapture.
If Nigg's open obeisance is to Messiaen, there are echoes of Ravel in the instrumental texture and, toward the close, a beautiful parallel to the Berg Violin Concerto. It is music of the utmost polish, which the orchestra, for whom it was written, played beautifully. The composer was present and twice acknowledged the audience's applause.