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S & H Concert Review

Vaughan Williams, Ravel Andreas Haefliger (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox. Barbican Hall, Tuesday, November 4th, 2003 (CC)


 

The young pianist Andreas Haefliger’s latest disc, on the Avie label, is an engrossing recital of four late Mozart Sonatas. As an artist often associated with the Austro-Germanic repertoire, it was instructional to hear the French side of his coin. Ravel’s G major Concerto is one of that composer’s best-loved works and, on the back of recent exposure to said Mozart disc, expectation was running high.

From the first, Haefliger was on the heavy side, his tone a little hard and forced. Over-projection characterised the earlier parts of his performance (a fault that was to recur in the second movement). As Haefliger warmed into the Barbican’s acoustic, things improved markedly. A sense of joy was slow to emerge, but emerge it did, animal pounding rhythms adding to the mix. With youth on his side, it was no surprise that the agile finale brought out Haefliger’s best, the humour marvellously cheeky. It positively brimmed over with energy. Technically, the orchestra played superbly (special mention to the nimble first trumpet), although Hickox was not always totally on the ball – this was not a telepathic meeting of souls. But the orchestral sound was right: bright and transparent.

Vaughan Williams sandwiched Ravel, but this was no run-of-the-mill RVW. First, the Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2 (1906). Forgotten for decades after its première in 1907 (by the LSO), two pages of the score were also lost. It was heard here in a completion by Stephen Hogger (Hickox and the LSO have recorded it on Chandos CHAN10001). Three folk-songs are used as the thematic material. An elegiac solo cello provides a point of entry, introducing a passage for winds entirely characteristic of this composer. In fact, the wind was superb throughout (particularly the oboe). This was a tender and loving performance – a pity the guest leader Boris Garlitsky’s tone was thin for his solo at the end.

Finally, to the 1913 version of Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony, performed for the first time in public since 1918 (again, these forces have recorded it for Chandos, on CHAN9902). The revised version cut the finale substantially (of which more later). The first movement remained intact; there were six alterations to the slow movement; an episode and a second trio were deleted in the Scherzo (Nocturne).

After the Ravel, it seemed aurally obvious that Hickox was back on home turf. The lines of the opening were soft but very clear, and ensemble at the Allegro risoluto was faultless. Climaxes had real bite and meaning and delineation was crystal clear even at these higher dynamic levels. In addition, they were not just loud, they had a structural point to make. The performance seemed to breathe naturally from first to last.

String chording was exquisitely judged in the Lento, providing a soft bed of sound over which the rich cor anglais could unwind its solo. Hickox evidently feels this music in his bones. This was a subtle, gentle unfolding that contrasted with the mercurial Scherzo (Nocturne). The fugato was energetic, the brass en masse in tremendous form.

The finale showed why Vaughan Williams cut this movement the most. Even with the most persuasive advocacy, the musical argument drags its feet. The performance itself could hardly be faulted (again, though, the leader’s tone was not sweet enough for his important solo, and the slurring was on the rough side). But the string section as a whole evoked the delicate atmosphere of the epilogue to perfection, closing a memorable account.

Colin Clarke

 

 

 


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