Eagerly-awaited visit by London Symphony Orchestra

Eagerly-awaited visit by London Symphony Orchestra Marc-André Hamelin, piano. Photo by Sim Cannety-Clarke.
Pat O’Kelly

 

The final programme in the NCH’s 2018/19 International Concert Series on June 14 brings the welcome return of the London Symphony Orchestra. Under Italian maestro Gianandrea Noseda, the concert features music by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Berlioz.

Russian Daniil Trifonov is the soloist in Shostakovich’s 1st Piano Concerto with UK trumpeter Philip Cobb playing the unusual trumpet obbligato. French musician Antoine Tamestit tackles the extended viola part in Berlioz’ Byron inspired Harold in Italy.

This final event promises to maintain the high standard experienced so far with, for me, the recent appearance of Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin being a particular highlight.

Hamelin was here in 2017 partnering Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes in a programme including a stunning account of Stravinsky’s own version for two pianos of his ballet The Rite of Spring. This time Hamelin was alone.

Schumann’s C major Fantaisie with Chopin’s A flat Polonaise-Fantaisie and 4th Scherzo were the principal Romantic works but Hamelin moved into the last century for the unfamiliar Cipressi by the Italian-born American Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and six songs sung by Charles Trenet arranged by Bulgarian-born pianist/composer Alexis Weissenberg.

Trenet’s popular La Mer, recorded by many artists including Trenet himself, failed to get into the mix but it really didn’t matter, as Weissenberg’s selection was highly engaging when played with Hamelin’s sophistication and panache. Sounding totally French, melancholy and nostalgia were offset by bounce and eccentricity. In Hamelin’s interpretation, the pieces had a chic of their own.

Cipressi (Cypresses) were no less atmospheric. Occasionally they became agitated and even aggressive. At times, too, the music recalled Debussy and Ravel in its impressionism and certainly Hamelin etched the scene of the mostly gently swaying branches with imaginative insight.

Passion

Hamelin’s approach to the Schumann and Chopin was all I could wish for as he reached the emotional hearts of both composers through playing of utmost sensitivity. But power and passion were also there with weighty intensity that was neither harsh nor abrasive.

The RTÉ NSO’s subscription season is also drawing to a close with Korngold’s Violin Concerto and Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony in the final concert on May 31 when Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada takes to the rostrum.

In somewhat of a coup, the NSO latterly enticed the laureate US conductor Leonard Slatkin on to its podium. He opened the evening with a short piece by his wife, Cindy McTee. Including a clattering percussion battery, although without timpani, Circuits buzzed with electrifying animation. Russian-born, London-domiciled Alina Ibragimova joined the orchestra for Richard Strauss’ teenage Violin Concerto. The work is a bit of a curate’s egg, with the many lovely things in it just failing to coalesce into a satisfying entity. Elements of Brahms, Bruch and Dvorák creep in with the finale almost pure Mendelssohn.

Still, interesting to hear when played beautifully and the sweet toned, if at times somewhat over delicate, Ibragimova obliged with Slatkin and the NSO supplying composite artistry in their accompaniment.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations had elegant finesse and magisterial grandeur after the interval. The magnificent performance kept resounding in my head for days.

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