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Review of Concert on 17th March 2012

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When tourists visit popular beauty spots they often complain that they are too full of tourists! - because in reality places that are much loved really are wonderful and deserve to be visited. And so it is with some of the popular war-horses of the classical music repertoire and conversely, why some perfectly good but not outstanding music is rarely heard.

The gem-like Mendelssohn violin concerto is a work so frequently performed that it is easy to take its challenges to the soloist for granted. Alexander Sitkovetsky (who many will remember from his fine performance of the Elgar concerto about two years ago) was the most accomplished and polished soloist in a work which once again worked its usual magic on us.

The orchestral playing was alert and the balance between soloist and orchestra was sensitively achieved. Special mention must be made of some fine woodwind solos in the first movement. Sitkovetsky's playing of the cadenza was spellbinding and deservedly won the rapt attention from the audience.

The orchestra's playing in the slow movement was particularly warm and sensitive.

The Allegro molto appasionato was taken at a fairly steady speed but seemed here just right to avoid any muddiness of textures in what is after all Mendelssohn in his light scherzo, Midsummer Night's Dream, mode.

Alexander Sitkovetsky generously played as an encore the Sarabande from Bach's Second Partita in D Minor, effortlessly (or so it seemed) making light of Bach's notoriously difficult double stopping.

Beethoven's overture to his incidental music to Egmont, which opened the concert, is Beethoven vicariously patriotic, taking up the cudgel for the oppressed people of the Low Countries in the 16th century in their valiant fight against their Spanish masters - perhaps taking a swipe at political oppression in times and places closer to his own, as of course in his opera Fidelio. The orchestra acquitted itself well with fine brass and woodwind playing in the exciting conclusion. There is some wonderful music in the rest of the incidental music Beethoven wrote for Goethe's play. Perhaps that could go on the orchestra's "things to do" list?

The concert ended with Glazunov's rarely-heard second symphony. He is a composer who has probably escaped the attention of most concert-goers except perhaps for the occasional hearing of his ballet The Seasons and his violin concerto.

I must own up to prejudice against Glazunov. He allegedly caused Rachmaninov to go into a serious mental decline by his disastrous conducting (maybe when drunk) of the much younger composer's wonderful first symphony! But let not the actual facts of that performance get in the way of a good story and look at Glazunov's second symphony (which I had not heard before) on its merits - and of course WSO's performance of it.

As the programme note says, similarities with Borodin's second symphony can be drawn - the distinctly Russian feel to the music, though alas without the inspiration to be found in Tchaikovsky's first two symphonies - his second known as the Little Russian.

But this is attractive music, which deserves to be heard more often. As a student work it is remarkable, but again it is hard to avoid unfavourable comparisons with, say, the first symphonies of Rachmaninov and Shostakovich (Glazunov being one of his teachers)

In the first movement, which has an arresting opening, the WSO showed the quality of its strings (under the as ever exceedingly capable leadership of Peter Marsh) with some vigorous playing, and some good sounds from the brass section.

The second movement seemed to me to be the emotional heart of this symphony. There was excellent playing here, especially from the woodwind (the oboe in particular), violas and cellos.

The third movement is marked "Scherzo - Allegro Vivace" but it seemed to be played here at a rather relaxed, amiable pace. There was again splendid playing with striking brass contributions.

The weakest section of this work for me was the finale, which I personally found derivative and uninvolving: the composer seeming to have picked on some good ideas but not being sure what to do with them. The orchestra, however, rose to the demands place upon it with excellent playing from all sections.

I am sure many will disagree with my seemingly half-hearted view of this symphony. Much music deserves repeated hearing for the true quality to emerge and credit must be given to the orchestra for playing music unfamiliar to them and the audience.

The temptation to play only standard repertoire that is well known to the audience must be avoided and this forward-looking orchestra under the inspiring baton of Nicholas Wilks is to be commended for its programme planning in recent concerts.

Peter Stone

Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2012 13:58
 
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