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S & H Concert Review

Royal Academy & Tokyo Geidai Symphony, Sir Colin Davis, RFH, 17 October 2001 (SJH)

Joanna MacGregor piano
Kazuki Sawa violin
Colin Carr cello

Berlioz Overture to 'Benvenuto Cellini'
Beethoven Triple Concerto in C, Op.56
Sibelius Symphony No.2 in D

This RFH gala concert was meant to be the highlight of a week-long series of musical events to mark the beginning of the Japan 2001 festival; the intention had been to bring together students from Tokyo Geidai (the Tokyo National University of Fine arts and Music) and London's Royal Academy of Music, to form a 'cross-cultural' music festival. Sadly, it was not to be; security fears following terrorist warnings forced the Japanese visit to be cancelled, and it was left to Royal Academy students to fill in for the absentees. Happily, the violin soloist Kazuki Sawa did manage to travel from Japan, and this concert at least (as well as the recital by Quartetto Armonico) was salvaged.

The stand-in orchestra - supplied by the Royal Academy alone - was an excellent substitute. The performance of Berlioz's quirky Overture to 'Benvenuto Cellini' (his earliest overture) was spirited and energetic, and the secure interpretation owed much to Sir Colin Davis' experienced direction. Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C, Op.56 was not such a success; Davis, pianist Joanna MacGregor and cellist Colin Carr struggled through the piece heroically, but were burdened with insecure ensemble from the orchestra, and the incongruously sharp pitch of violinist Kazuki Sawa. Beethoven's Triple Concerto is more focused on the string soloists than the piano (this is deliberate: Beethoven wrote the piano part for his young patron and pupil Archduke Rudolph, who was not the most competent of pianists), and interplay between violin and cello is all-important. Sawa's playing in the second movement Largo included some beautiful, searching moments, but throughout the rest of the piece his fluctuating tone failed to balance Colin Carr's strong, powerfully projected sound. Carr left no doubt that he was a virtuoso of the highest calibre, but by becoming the central focus of the performance the equality of the 'triple' concerto was compromised - not that this was any fault of his. Interestingly, the soloists appeared to be using music, though it did not go unnoticed that Carr's part remained unopened on the stand throughout...

In Sibelius' glorious Symphony No.2 in D, the orchestra regained its focus. Where Sibelius' writing demanded it, a far greater sense of vitality was suddenly discernible, and in the famous opening Allegretto, the brass and string sections suddenly possessed a richer sonority. The haunting wind solos deserved a special mention, in particular those of the oboe section. Was the ending of the final Allegro moderato movement climactic enough? At first it seemed not, but perhaps Davis did not want to end this forward-looking Symphony with a blazing overstatement. Written at an exciting and pivotal point in Sibelius' career it is a work that is both excitedly optimistic, yet full of anticipation for the future yet to come.

Simon Hewitt Jones

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