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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Mozart – Symphony No. 38 in D, K504, Prague, Krasa – Symphony for Small Orchestra, Janacek – Suite No. 3, Dvorak – Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53, Diana Moore, (mezzo soprano),Northern Sinfonia Orchestra conducted by Thomas Zehetmair (vln) Hall 1, The Sage, Gateshead, 25.11. 05 (JP)


Last night’s concert was excellent, with the local Newcastle Orchestra in fine fettle. The concert started with the Mozart Prague Symphony which sounded well, except for a momentary lapse in the slow movement where they seemed to lose concentration briefly. The lapse was in no way serious, and the symphony was very enjoyable.


Pursuing the Czech theme of the evening, the second work was the Symphony for Small Orchestra by Hans Krasa (1899 - 1944) a composer better known for his children's opera Brundibar completed in the Terezin concentration camp after Krasa had been arrested for his support (with other anti-fascist artists) of a Jewish children's orphanage in Prague. He later died in Auschwitz.


I believe that this was a first performance for Gateshead of this relatively short work in three movements, the last of which was a setting of “The Lice Pickers” a grotesque poem by Rimbaud, translated into German by Krasa’s friend Max Brod. The work, written in 1923 and habitually given without its final movement until a Berlin account in 1991, received a superb performance in every way. The last movement was beautifully sung by Diana Moore, returning to Newcastle after having given Berlioz’s Nuits d’Eté with the Northern Sinfonia early last year at the Sage. The Symphony (certainly very different from Berlioz and with definite neo-classical elements) had obviously been prepared very well indeed on this occasion and, though not a particularly tuneful piece, it was well received by the audience.


After the interval we were treated to Janacek’s delightful Suite Op. 3, a pot-pourri of Czech folk tunes. At times the orchestra sounded quite genuinely ethnic with particulalry well sprung rhythms. The only thing missing was the authentic Czech woodwind and brass timbre, which we could not expect from British trained instrumentalists.


The concert ended with an excellent performnace of the Dvorak Concerto played by the conductor. I was deeply impressed by his playing, even to the extent that I began to wonder whether Mr. Zehetmair is a better violin soloist than he is a conductor. Having said that however, the whole thing went ahead smoothly, and was generally excellent, the orchestra hesitating only slightly when their soloist was in the middle of some very difficult passage work. The performance came to a glorious conclusion, and soloist and orchestra alike were given a roar of very well deserved approval by the audience.


A very enjoyable concert then, and reasonably well attended, given that there was a heavy rainstorm in progress as the evening started.

John Phillips



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