Thursday 27 March 2014

Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Rossini in Grimsby

Alexandra Dariescu
Alexandra Dariescu
Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Rossini: Alexandra Dariescu, Benjamin Pope, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Grimsby Auditorium
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 26 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Dariescu, Pope and RPO on terrific form

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra paid a visit to the Grimsby Auditorium in North Lincolnshire, on 26 March 2014 giving a rare live orchestral concert in the town; generally Grimsby gets just one or two visits from major orchestras in a year. Benjamin Pope conducted the orchestra in Rossini's Overture to William Tell and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 From the New World, and they were joined by the Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1. I was in Grimsby visiting relatives and to attend one of Orchestras Live's First Time Youth events, so it seemed a good opportunity to hear the orchestra and Dariescu performing in my home town.

Frankly, the Grimsby Auditorium is a relatively unlovely venue for a concert, with an ambiance more resembling a sports hall with seats. The orchestra had been placed on the platform. But surrounding them with curtains rather than reflective surfaces meant that the sound quality was not optimal, with the strings particularly rather lacking in bloom. But none of this mattered as Pope and the orchestra gave a vividly engrossing performance, which gave no hint at all that they had played these works many times before.

Rossini's overture to his opera William Tell was written for its premiere in Paris in 1829. The overture has long had an independent life in the concert hall, with the final section being well known for its use in the TV series The Lone Ranger. The performance opened with a fine grained account of the prelude for five solo cellos. The subsequent thunderstorm with exciting with tightly controlled rhythms, leading to some lovely wind solos in the pastoral section. The final galop was crisply exciting, with some finely disciplined playing. The whole had a lovely crisp, new-minted feel.

Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu trained in Iasi in Romania, at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 2013 she was named the 2013 Woman of The Future for Arts and Culture, and one of Forbes Magazine's 30 under 30.

She played the solo in Tchakovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1. Written in 1875, it was originally described as unplayable by the pianist Nikokai Rubenstein and that the piano writing needed revision. The premiere was given by Hans von Bulow, but Rubenstein clearly revised his opinion and went on to perform the work. But Tchaikovsky did indeed revise piano part in 1879 and subsequently.

Dariescu brought firmly disciplined power to the famous opening, giving us a fine combination of strength and poetry. Speed was quite brisk but not rushed, and Dariescu's playing had a nice freedom to it. Throughout there was a nice muscularity to her playing, but combined with delicacy and rubato. The big bravura moments were vividly done, and the whole had a nice vibrancy,  The second movement opened with a lovely clear flute solo, with a singing line in the piano, which Dariescu combined with firmness of touch. There was also fine solo cello moment. The tempo was quite steady, but flexible allowing the music to breathe though there were moments when I would have liked it to move. The opening of the finale was rhythmically vivid, with a nice sweep to the main theme. Dariescu brought great excitement to the bravura moments, with their cascades of notes. But this performance was not just about noise and excitement, Dariescu gave us a finely poetic performance but one which didn't stint on the virtuoso elements as well.

After the interval Pope and the orchestra played Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 From the New World. The symphony was written 1893 whilst Dvorak was in the USA. There is some discussion as to quite what inspirations lay behind the work, with quite how much American influence there is in the work. There is no doubt that the symphony has something of a different feel to his previous one, but many of Dvorak's themes and rhythms evoke his Czech heritage.

Pope made the dramatic opening build, giving a lovely sense of something about to happen. The main theme was impulsively exciting, and there was a lovely sprung feel to the rhythms as Pope encourage the orchestra to bring out the Czech quality to the music. Throughout the movement we had exciting crisp rhythms, well pointed and detailed textures with a nicely focussed slim string tone. The second movement, Largo, focussed on the mellow and nutty tones of the fine cor anglais solo. In the middle section Pope brought quiet control to the rich underlay. Here and in other places in the symphony, Dvorak's detailed mulitlayered orchestration requires careful care and control, and Pope clearly brought a fine ear to the music and the RPO responded well. This was true also of the lively Scherzo, which was vividly impulsive. For the Finale I was again impressed with the firm control and crisp rhythms of the orchestra's performance, this was a very Czech sounding account of the work and one which was vividly involving. There were also some lovely transparent textures, with Pope whipping the orchestra into a nice excitement at the end.

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