Whilst the London Philharmonic
Orchestra’s programme was devoted to an evening of colourful ‘culinary
classics’ the performances themselves demonstrated that so called ‘light
music’ can be given incisive and vigorous interpretations. This was
largely due to the stylish and sensitive conducting of Roberto Minczuk,
Co-Artistic Director of the Säo Paulo State Symphony Orchestra
The concert opened with a novelty
– the audience were allowed to choose between hearing dances from Alberto
Ginastera’s ballet Estancia, or Ferruccio Busoni’s Turandot
Suite. When an LPO percussionist announced Busoni as the winner
he stated that when the orchestra was asked what the composer’s contribution
to the twentieth century was they said: ‘tinned ravioli’!
From the opening bars the conductor
established an intensely tranquil mood but with an underlying nervous
tension, which the LPO played with delicate sensitivity. Notably suave
was the eloquent timpani playing of Simon Carrington. In Nocturnal
Waltz the strings played with a hushed sedateness. The performance
was bathed in a delicate aura of subdued sounds which is what gave this
performance its elusive magic, taking the music beyond its mere notes.
The concluding march for the executioner’s procession had all the requisite
sinister and menacing quality.
Astor Piazzolla’’s flamboyant
Tango Suite for saxophone and orchestra was arranged by the evening’s
soloist, Theodore Kerkezos. Piazzolla reinvented and revitalised the
tango in what became know as ‘nuevo tango’ and this could be heard here.
Other hybrid influences included ‘40’s smoky bar ‘lounge music’, ‘50’s
Mantovani and ‘60’s Bossa Nova all consciously coated in an overtly
camp kitschness. The conductor approached the score with great passion,
stressing the relentless, throbbing sensuality of the tango rhythms.
What let the performance down was the perfunctory and standardised playing
of Kerkezos whose saxophone sounded somewhat sour.
After the interval we had Darius
Milhaud’s Scaramouche for saxophone & orchestra, again with
Kerkezos as soloist. The conductor conjured up an evocative and
elusive atmosphere of light, frivolity, grace and charm, all bathed
in a Marseille light, especially in the central section which reminded
one of Albert Marquet’s tranquil sea-front paintings. Rather unexpectedly,
Kerkezos transformed himself here - sounding like a different musician
altogether - and played with the panache, warmth and character that
was so lacking in the Tango Suite.
The highlight of the evening was
an extraordinarily musical account of Ottorino Respighi’s popular showpiece
Pines of Rome. Often this culinary score can just sound bombastic
but under Roberto Minczuk’s highly sensitive and majestic direction
it sounded like first-rate music.
The opening Pines of The Villa
Borghese had the appropriate sparkling light and festive celebration
conjuring up a scene of children playing in the park with great verve.
By contrast, Pines near a Catacomb was sparse, serene and calm
tinged with melancholia as evoked by the solemn chords in the lower
strings accompanied by sedate trombones. What followed were a sublimely
played off-stage trumpet (which is strikingly reminiscent of the distant
trumpet solo in the third movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony) and a
subdued piano solo that segued perfectly into the following part.
What lets The Pines of the
Janiculum down is the composer’s use of ‘real’ sounding nightingale
chirps which sound Disneyesque. This also had the effect of clashing
with the exquisitely played long, rubato clarinet solo (which also imitates
quasi-bird sounds). Luckily in tonight’s performance the birds were
well recessed but it still sounded as if some birds had been let loose
into the RFH! The glittering arpeggios for celeste, harp, and piano
also made this section so atmospherically radiant.
In the opening of The Pines
of the Appian Way Minczuk conjured up a brooding, sinister scene
of misty dawn with great precision. He perfectly judged the subtle and
gradual built up of tension with the pounding march rhythms gradually
increasing in dynamics and intensity building up to an inexorable climactic
cacophony of shattering sounds, especially from the blazing horns, Wagner
tubas and bass drum.
This was certainly one of the
most atmospheric and poetic accounts I have heard of this score since
Toscanini’s and the closing passages with the relentless nailing timpani
were strikingly similar in sheer intensity to Cantelli’s ‘live’ (25.12.1954)
Boston Symphony account. What made this concert rather special was the
sense of magic, mystery and poetry Minczuk extracted from his
superb players and his artistry directly recalled maverick magicians
like Furtwangler, Stokowski and Celibidache.