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Glinka, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky: Pieter Wispelwey (cello), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vassily Sinaisky (conductor), Queen Elizabeth Hall, 28.10.2005 (AR)



The acoustic for the Queen Elizabeth Hall was essentially designed for chamber music and small orchestral ensembles but not symphony orchestras and tonight’s London Philharmonic Orchestra concert proved the point: the hall simply cannot take the vast sounds of a full symphony orchestra.

This under-rehearsed and ill-fated LPO concert opened with Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka’s Capriccio brillante on the theme`Jota aragonesa'.  Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky failed to make the music catch fire, and entirely missed the multiple and contrasting dance rhythms that create the carnivalesque spirit of the work. Lacking in tension and drive the music did not dance. The orchestral playing was mediocre and lack-lustre, with the players indifferent to their conductor’s erratic and superficial conducting. If you want to hear how this marvellous music should be conducted and played listen to Toscanini and the NBC SO! (See below, further listening).

After reviewing the outstanding performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor with Truls Mørk and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Sir Charles Mackerras (10, April, 2005: RFH) this interpretation with Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey under Vassily Sinaisky was an absolutely appalling affair. Soloist, conductor and orchestra were all out of sync which resulted in the work collapsing in ruins: it simply fell apart and became a hodge-podge of haphazard sounds.  Again the LPO appeared non committed and had a visibly negative demeanour. This was evident in the introductory passages of the Allegro where the descending pulsating theme on the double bases went for nothing: the players may just as well have stayed at home; likewise the trombone interjections in the Adagio ma non troppo lacked precision and incision. The woodwind were frequently out of tune and played in a shrill manner.

Wispelwey’s playing of the Allegro was scrawny, producing a shrill thin tone; he was unable to produce any weight or depth of sound. His tone in the Adagio ma non troppo had a strange dull sourness, whilst the concluding Allegro moderato came across as scraped rather than played. Sinaisky and the LPO did not accompany their soloist but over-rode him, producing a cacophony of distorted and congested noises with orchestral textures blurred and buried. A performance to forget.

Sinaisky’s plodding performance of Tchaikovsky’s Third ‘Polish’ Symphony was again just another routine run through, with conductor and players having zero rapport with each other or, indeed, with the music. The conducting of the Introduction was fragmented and flat-footed, with Sinaisky unable to negotiate a steady sense of line or metre. Yet again the LPO rarely – if ever – looked at the conductor and appeared to be bored by the proceedings.

The Allegro never caught light and sounded disjointed, lacking any sense of thrusting drive and urgency. The cellos’ and double basses had no impact at all even when the conductor made his somewhat superficial gestures towards them. The Andante elegiasco was by far the most successful movement, with the violins at last playing with some style and the conductor inflecting a sense of striving passion – a tantalising glimpse of what might have been achieved throughout the whole work.  Alas, things fell apart again in the Scherzo – Allegro vivo with conductor failing to realize the fleeting dance rhythms, and the violins and woodwinds sounding somewhat static and disconnected: here the strings should shimmer and the woodwinds shine yet all was in the shade. The Finale – Allegro con fuco was crudely bashed out, a mish-mash of messy sounds, with the badly played brass sounding merely congested. The all important timpani parts in the closing passages were weak and muffled.

This lack of commitment was the hallmark of the entire evening with the LPO playing blandly and on autopilot without a living pilot to guide them on their way. The warm applause from the audience made me realize just how uncritical our audiences in London have become. 




Alex Russell




Further listening:


Glinka: Capriccio brillante on the theme `Jota aragonesa'; Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky; NBC SO, Arturo Toscanini (conductor): Music & Arts Programs Of America: AAD: 1115.  


Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor, B. 191 (Op. 104); Bloch: Schelomo; Bruch: Kol Nidrel; Pierre Fournier (cello), Berliner Philharmoniker, Lamoureux Concert Association Orchestra; George Szell/Alfred Wallenstein (conductors): Deutsche Grammophon: 29155.

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3, Francesca da Rimini; London Symphony Orchestra, Igor Markevitch (conductor): Philips Duo: 446 148-2.


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