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Dvorak & Janacek; Natalie Clein (cello) Christine Brewer (sop), Louise Winter (mezzo), John Mac Master (ten), Neal Davies (bar); Thomas Trotter (organ); London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus; Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, Royal Festival Hall, 29th June 2004 (AR)


Sir Charles Mackerras opened his all Slavonic programme with a sparkling account of Dvorak's popular Carnival Overture. Here the score was stripped of its usual bombast with conductor teasing out the translucent textures of the score with the Philharmonia Orchestra on top form; they clearly enjoy giving their best for one of our finest conductors.

Natalie Clein, winner of the 1994 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, substituted for an indisposed Han-Na Chang. In stark contrast with Joshua Bell's vital and incandescent account of Brahms' Violin Concerto (in part one of Mackerras' Dvorak/Janacek Series), Clein's lifeless performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto lent a whole new meaning to the word lacklustre.

It would be an act of generosity to describe her playing as mediocre: despite her animated grimaces and attempts to act passion none of this came through in her playing, which largely lacked the real feeling and bravura required for this work. Whatever kind of emotional trip she may have been having she was not able to communicate it to the listening public.

Clein's opening passages of the Allegro were indistinct, with her thin wiry tone being buried by the full-bodied and expressive Philharmonia strings; indeed, throughout the cellos had more persona and presence than the soloist who was so inaudible she could have been miming the work. In the Adagio we needed velvet and she gave us vinegar, producing an acidic tone which negated the mellowness of the mood. Her playing lacked contour and colour - monochrome met monotone in a featureless landscape. By total contrast the horns and trombones were dynamic and incisive.

With the Finale Clein's playing was rough and ready, producing ragged phrasing and a scrawny tone. What went some way towards saving this deeply disappointing performance was the sterling work of Mackerras and the superlative playing of the Philharmonia.

What followed turned out to be a stunning and inspired account of Janacek's much underrated Glagolitic Mass. Mackerras is regarded as one of the leading interpreters of the music of Janacek and judging from his glowing performance of the Glagolitic Mass one can see why; his reputation is very well deserved. This intense and dramatic performance glowed from beginning to end with the Philharmonia and massed choruses surpassing themselves.

The Gloria was especially overpowering, with the pounding rhythms from three timpanists having intense impact, played with incredible precision and incisiveness. The cellos and double basses in the Credo had the appropriate brooding and dark graininess required while Andrew Smith's forceful timpani were electrifying.

 

The Varhany organ solo of Thomas Trotter sounded more like improvised jazz played on a Hammond Organ, producing wild, mind blowing sounds. The concluding Intrada was simply awe-inspiring, the violins playing with white-hot intensity and concluding with Andrew Smith producing the final thud. Mackerras and his magnificent forces received an enthusiastic, richly deserved ovation, especially for the massed voices of the three choirs who were quite outstanding. Of the soloists soprano Christine Brewer had the right weight and depth of tone, singing with warmth and radiance.

It was a pity that this great performance was not recorded for prosperity: a truly memorable account of an underrated and under- played work.
Alex Russell

Further Listening
Dvorak Cello Concerto: Pierre Fournier (cello), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, George Szell & Bloch: Schelomo; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfred Wallenstein: DG: 02894291552
Janacek Glagolitic Mass & Taras Bulba: Evelyn Lear, Hilde Rossel-Majdan, Ernst Haefligiger, Franz Cras, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Rafael Kubelik: DG: GALLERIA 429 182-2.

 



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