Monday 17 September 2007

Dutch Cornucopia - London Festival Orchestra

On Thursday Ross Pople and the London Festival Orchestra gave the final concert in their Dutch Cornucopia season. The orchestra presented an attractively mixed programme of Dutch music at Cadogan Hall.

The evening started with No. 1 of Wassenaer's Concerti Armonici, these attractive pieces for string orchestra have been long known, but the 18th century edition in which they are published does not give the composer. For a time the concerti were attributed to Pergolesi but now they are known to be by the Dutch aristocrat Unico van Wassanaer. The 1st concerto is written for strings and continuo, with 4 solo violins contributing to the attractive texture. The London Festival Orchestra gave a stylish, if somewhat old fashioned, account of the work. My only real complaint being that the harpsichord were underpowered compared to the modern stringed instruments.

From the 18th century we jumped to the present day, for the Piano Concerto by the young Dutch composer Robin de Raaff, who is a pupil of George Benjamin's (to whom the concerto is dedicated). Balance was again in the forefront here as the composer has set the work for piano and some 12 instruments and percussion; each instrument of the orchestra represented by just 1 player. The intention was to allow the piano to speak easily. Given the extreme virtuosity required for the piano part, this was understandable and the results, played by the talented young pianist Ralph van Raat were dazzling in the extreme. De Raaff conjured up some ravishing textures and made the most of the contrasts available. Van Raat played from memory and was simply brilliant. This is the first of this season's S.W. Mitchell Capital Piano Virtuoso Series, and it lived up to its name. There were moments, though, when the balance seemed to be slightly misjudged. This might be miscalculation on the composer's part or just that with a new work, not everything had settled down in performance. Whatever the reason, the brass seemed to dominate when they played, meaning that the string textures (played by 1 violin, 1 viola and 1 cello) were sometimes obscured.

De Raaff's new concerto is complex and impressive, the sort of piece that I really need to hear again. It was followed, in a rather long first half, by Hendrik Andriessen's Miroir de Peine. This was a cycle of 5 French poems, by Henri Gheon, set by the father of the contemporary composer Louis Andriessen. The cycle is very French inspired and the string accompaniments were truly ravishing, creating some gorgeous textures. The lyrical soprano part was sung by Dutch soprano Hanneke de Wit. We were not provided with words and her diction was a little occluded, so to a certain extent she was singing in a vacuum. But the results were undoubtedly lovely.

After the interval we had another string piece, this time by Henrik Badings. Badings is a major 20th century name in Dutch music and he deserves to be better known. This year is his centenary and though he has written many substantial pieces, it was good that LFO managed to included something by him in the concert even if it was just his short but attractive Largo en Allegro for strings.

Theo Loevendie's The 5 Drives was the first time the full orchestra had been on the platform together. The piece is written for orchestra and improvising soloist, in this case the composer himself playing soprano sax. Loevendie is classically trained but his career spans classical and jazz. This work was effectively written for orchestra, but I found the composer's solo account a little under powered.

The evening finished with Alphons Deipenbrock's lively overture De Vogels, based on Aristophanes The Birds. Again, LFO revealed a composer about whom we ought to know more.

The orchestra under conductor, Ross Pople, gave fine accounts of all of these unfamiliar pieces.

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