Wednesday 17 October 2018

Southbank Sinfonia and Vladimir Ashkenazy in Grieg, Prokofiev and Beethoven

Vladimir Ashkenazy
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Grieg, Prokofiev, Beethoven; Southbank Sinfonia, Vladimir Ashkenazy; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 October 2018
Star rating: 4.0

Fizzing with youthful energy, Southbank Sinfonia in concert with its patron, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Southbank Sinfonia's season runs from February to November, at the beginning of each year a new group of young players comes together for a season of training and mentoring at this remarkable orchestral academy. So the orchestra's concert on Tuesday 16 October 2018 at Milton Court Concert Hall was towards the end of the present intake's season. The concert took place away from their base at St John's Church, Waterloo, because it was something of an occasion, the conductor was the orchestra's patron, Vladimir Ashkenazy.

The programme included three works, all of which have a strong element of dance in them. The first half consisted of a pair of works where 19th/20th century composers looked at the past, Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite and Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. The second half was devoted to a symphony which Wagner called 'The Apotheosis of Dance', Beethoven's Symphony No. 7

Created for the celebrations of the bicentenary of the Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg, Grieg's suite is a series of Baroque dances filtered through his very 19th century sensibilities. The work is familiar, in danger of being hackneyed, but Vladimir Ashkenazy and Southbank Sinfonia brought an engaging energy to the platform along with a clear delight at being there.

The 'Praeludium' was taken quite fast with tight rhythms and a sense of suppressed excitement over which spun an insouciant violin melody. The 'Sarabande' was quiet and delicate with strongly shaped phrases and richly toned moments. This was followed by a highly rhythmic 'Gavotte' full of lovely strong string tone. The 'Air' (marked Andante religioso) was expansively phrased with moments of great intensity. The final 'Rigaudon' was fast and perky with some quietly bravura playing from the concertino group.

We could detect a similar approach to the remaining works in the programme as the Grieg, so that rhythms were crisp and tight, full of controlled energy yet with a freedom of phrasing and a sense of innate excitement. The acoustic of the hall lent the orchestra a bright, vivid quality in fact one which tended to over emphasise the upper wind in the Prokofiev and the Beethoven.

Prokofiev's Classical Symphony of 1917 was somewhat revolutionary at the time as using Haydn as a model was daring in Russia where the composer was little studies. The symphony's opening 'Allegro' burst on us with fast, vivid rhythms and an attention to detail, yet Haydn's clockwork motions were engaging and full of wit. The second movement 'Larghetto' started with elegant violins and developed with some richly textured detail. The 'Presto' third movement was a crisp country dance whilst the Finale was all brilliant excitement and full of joyful energy.

Apart from the aforementioned dance element, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 is notable for the composer's metronome marks which are generally regarded as inclining towards the incredible. I have no idea how close Southbank Sinfonia got, but they gave us some pretty fizzing moments. The long introduction was expansive, yet Ashkenazy kept the excitement and tension building until the wanderings finally led to an explosive Vivace. Infectious and lively with a vibrant sound, although there were moments of introspection it was the fizzing energy which captured us. The 'Allegretto' started off quietly rhythmic, the violas making their accompanying figure interesting in its own right before being joined by lyrical cellos and then more and more layers. Ashkenazy might have an eye for orchestral detail, but he ensured the overall architecture flowed too. The 'Presto' was an infectious country dance, full of bright colours and a trio which showcased the lovely sound of the harmonie band. The Finale was fast and furious, but the energy was infectious and under tight control. This was a dazzling display, I have no idea what speed it was but this was full of glorious youthful energy.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A Bernstein Celebration - London English Song Festival - concert review
  • Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes (★★★) - theatre review
  •  Something for everyone: Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from English National Opera (★★★★)  - opera review
  •  Handel's Radamisto from English Touring Opera (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • Portrait of a life (or many): Art songs from the African diaspora (★★★★) - concert review
  • Crowd-funding & collaboration: new choral music from Lumen  - interview
  • Double concerto for bandoneon and violin (★★★½) - CD review
  • The choral music of Richard Allain (★★★½) - CD review
  • Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots returns to the Paris Opera - Opera review
  • Modified Rapture: Verdi's Aida from the Met (★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Emperor's Fiddler - violinist David Irving on historical approaches on his new disc - interview
  • Schubert's Winter Journey - Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall  - (★★★★★Concert review
  • Swan songs - Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at Temple Song  (★★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Love & Obsession: Robert & Clara Schumann and Brahms at Conway Hall - concert review
  •  Home

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