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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Brahms, Britten, Dvořák:  Anthony Marwood (violin); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 15.04.2007 (CC)

For her most recent thought-provoking event, Marin Alsop served up what could have been construed as a surfeit of D minor. Although Britten's violin concerto is the least 'in' D minor, the key area still exerts a strong pull; both the Brahms and the Dvořák hold D minor as central. Too much? Or an embarassment of richness? In the end, probably not too much overkill, but only because   Dvořák's Seventh Symphony was given such an understated reading.

First, though, Brahms' Tragic Overture. This is core Alsop territory these days, and of course there is a well-receved Naxos version with this orchestra (8.557428, coupled with an excellent Brahms First). Alsop's tragedy is very dark indeed. Her intimate knowledge of the score is beyond doubt – endorsed not only by the absence of a score but also by her real eyeball interaction with her players. The LPO responded pliably to her, from exquisite brass shadings through to carefully measured mysterious string staccato and on to the later leaping horns.

Britten's Violin Concerto deserves a wider press. This is ony the second live performance I have attended (the other many yeats ago with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester). Alsop's stance was to emphasise the contrasts in Britten's score, initially in the bare timpani and cymbal against lush strings and later to highlight a raw edge to the brass against slinky violins.Anthony Marwood was the soloist (he is best known perhaps as the violinist of the award-winning Florestan Trio). Marwood's tone could have been sweeter in the more lyrical sctions and there was more than a hint of strain to the more technically demanding passages (including the high harmonics at th end of the first movement). The hectic central scherzo was on the careful side, robbing the music of its vital internal energy. In fairness, the more lyrical moments worked well and the tuba-underpinned piccolo twitterings came across superbly. The orchestra lead-in to the cadenza was the highpoint of the performance and inspired Marwood to his finest playing so far; yet the trombones' entrance at the cadenza's close with the final movement's Passacaglia theme was similarly memorable.The finale tended to be diffuse and contrasts between the superb orchestra and the intermittently good soloist continued, with a fine orchestral climax against Marwood's over-insistent, too little wistful contributions.

The Dvořák effectively began as it meant to go on – rather matter-of-factly. Mystery was low, but sudden dramatic flare-ups were set too high as if to compensate. The problem was that there was little of  Dvořák's directed maestoso, and, as the movement progressed, too little of the necessary charm. Wind chording for the second movement (a poco adagio) was just about there, and indeed there were some moments of real beauty. The many strong points of this movement  - the orchestra's careful judging of the acoustic and the bite of the strings at the climax – boded well. The Scherzo had plenty of life, too. Dvořák's characteristic echt-Czech rhythms were more south of the Thames than Moravia in the finale. A disappointment. I hope this is an interpretation in progress, as Alsop is apparently due to record this symphony with her new orchestra in Baltimore.


Colin Clarke


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