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Handel, Poulenc, Stravinsky, Donizetti, R. Strauss: Soloists of the London Philharmonic Orchestra/Robin O’Neill. Wigmore Hall, Tuesday, 12.12.2006 (CC)



It is a wonderful idea to have a chamber series for one of London’s major orchestras at the Wigmore. It gives the players a chance to show off their chamber skills, sometimes in repertoire we may not encounter every day.The Handel in question for this LPO chamber concert, though, was the famous Music for the Royal Fireworks, pared down, obviously (one instrument to a part – there was no more room on-stage). There was an element of being too much for the acoustic on occasion, even so. This is celebratory music after all, and the first Menuet in particular needed more bass to give a weightier feel. Still, there was much to admire, from the bright trumpets and dry timpani through to the light bassoon staccato of the Bourrée.


Poulenc’s delightful Suite française (after works by Claude Gervais, fl. 1540-1560) received a performance of jaunty piquancy. Textures seemed perfectly balanced for the Pavane; the whole was perfectly crafted fun with many moments of beauty along the way. The use of older material recontextualised into the twentieth-century acted as an effective bridge to Stravinsky’s Octet, which rounded off the first half. Ensemble was appropriately tight here (some virtuoso bassoon playing in the Variations), with syncopations in the finale bringing a lightness to the music’s step.


If one composer might seem out of place in this concert, it is Donizetti. Yet his Sinfonia in G minor (not published until 1967!) was a real discovery. True, it sounded a little like an onstage wind-band in one of his operas had had ideas above its station (lots of characteristic gestures here) and this is very much music of the theatre. Finally, Richard Strauss’ Sonatina (‘From an Invalid’s Workshop’), a magnificent example of the composer’s Indian Summer. Presumably it is only its scoring that has prevented it from being better known (although I have played in it in my youth, I have never attended a professional performance until now). The title, by the way, comes about because the work was composed in between bouts of ‘flu to which Strauss was succumbing.


Perhaps unsurprisingly in this acoustic, textures tended to blur (Strauss’ scoring can be quite thick at times) and the really loud passages verged on the uncomfortable, but the late-Straussian glow survived intact. The LPO players clearly enjoyed negotiating the melodic contours. Importantly, the reliable conductor, Robin O’Neill, kept things on a tight leash (they need to be otherwise the work degenerates into sludge) and kept rhythms generally light, especially, and most successfully, in the finale’s fugato. A word of praise for the horns, who ought to be paid overtime for this piece. They had a ball, especially in the spirited last movement.


A memorable concert, then, both in terms of repertoire and of performance. The next concert in his series is Monday February 26th, where the LPO Soloists are directed by Boris Garlitsky



Colin Clarke




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)