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Bruch and Mendelssohn: Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin, Orchestra of St John's / John Lubbock, conductor, Cadogan Hall, 6.4.2006 (ED)


Tamsin Waley-Cohen first came to my attention in the 2005 Royal College of Music String Player of the Year concert, and I was impressed with her playing, so it came as a welcome opportunity to hear her again in the more expansive context of Bruch’s first violin concerto.

Her reading seemingly began in media res with the first solo statements hinting at glimpses of the eternal that Bruch extends to great effect as the work continues. If early on there was a slight tendency for some phrases not to be given their full due, this was quickly overcome as confidence and passionate advocacy of the solo line took hold. With playing that emphasized inherent musicality over the display of virtuoso technique for its own sake Waley-Cohen proved a persuasive and enchanting soloist. Particularly pleasing was her willingness to inflect the part with shadings of piano playing without making the effect seem anything other than natural. In respect of the tone Waley-Cohen produced, this was possessed of an unforced singing quality that was notable in the higher register, which contrasted well with the rich chest voice of her instrument’s lower ranges. The second movement was memorable for the direct simplicity of her playing and phrasing, whilst the third movement was imbued with a rousing bite to the phrasing.

In a work so well known as this it can, alas, be commonplace for audiences to encounter performances built around the soloist, whilst the orchestra runs routinely through the motions. Such a state of affairs was clearly anathema to the Orchestra of St John’s under John Lubbock’s direction, it being from the first unfailingly vital and full of orchestral sonorities that proved as worthy of attention as Waley-Cohen’s playing of the solo part.  Brass and woodwind lines were distinctive for the character they added to the rich unity of tone found in the strings. John Lubbock’s guidance allowed individual sections the space to shape their own phrases whilst never losing sight of the overall architectural plan of the concerto. With an opening tempo sensibly chosen, linked to the broad-breathed central movement gave way to a finale that was infectiously caught rhythmic drive.

Lubbock’s direction of Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony continued in the same vein as the closing movement of the concerto, emphasizing the vivace – the wonder of the young composer at the glories of Italy – in the writing with notable contributions from oboes, clarinets and brass departments. Relative weight was brought to bear in the string playing that proved most effective. The andante con moto was given with impressive unison playing underlined not too forcefully by the brass, and in the movement’s steady long lines readily brought to mind the regularity of a pilgrim’s march said to have inspired it. The character of the third movement was noticeably more Germanic, and this was caught in the expressive horn motifs that punctuate the writing, giving it a certain matter-of-fact quality. To close, Lubbock most delightfully allowed fine woodwind lines to emerge with vibrancy from the full orchestral texture. That this is a young composer’s joyous work was undeniable, and how wonderful that a concert billed as “full of the joys of Spring” left one feeling uplifted now that the long winter nights are finally past us.



Evan Dickerson





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