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
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.