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 Rossini, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and Ravel: Matthew Trusler (violin), London Schools Symphony Orchestra, Peter Ash, Barbican Hall, London, 23.9.2009 (BBr)

William Tell Overture (1829)
Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64 (1838/1844)
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels listige Streiche, op.28 (1894/1895)
Ravel: La Valse (1920)

It used to be said that the test of a true intellectual was one who could hear the galop from the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger! Well I didn’t, so that’s brownie points for me, I think. More important though was that I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, there were good things throughout, from the opening cello solo and ensemble, beautifully placed playing through the storm, with trombones as wild as you could hope for, the ranz des vaches with its gorgeous, and tonight, beautifully played, cor anglais solo to the final gal(l)op to the finish line. Ash and his young musicians made the piece sound fresh and I was never once aware of the fact that this is a really old warhorse; although having said that, I cannot remember when I last heard it in concert. Perhaps it has fallen from grace a little, so full marks for this wonderfully rehabilitating performance.

Matthew Trusler's biography in the programme book  states that  has assumed “the Heifetz (and Perlman) mantle with ease”. Quoting one’s press reviews -  that one was from the Daily Telegraph -  is all well and good but it does give the performer a lot to live up to. What I heard tonight was a fine fiddler, with a superb technique, but with something of an inability to relax and let the music flow freely. Mendelssohn’s Concerto is not a piece for display -  true,  it has its moments of fireworks and what have you - but it is essentially a lyrical work,  take the second subject of the first movement, or, indeed, the whole of the slow movement for example.  What is needed here is the utmost delicacy and restraint, but Trusler seemed happy to play the notes without sufficient regard for the feel of the music. The finale, which is light as gossamer, was also rather too heavy in execution. Trusler can certainly play the violin very well indeed, but to my ear, he needs to work on his interpretation rather more. I have heard many young soloists over the past two years or so and virtuosity at the expense of expression seems often to be the order of the day. We, the audience, are the poorer for this approach.

After the interval things were much better. Richard Strauss’s hilarious
Till Eulenspiegel was given a rip-roaring performance. Every department excelled here, but especially noteworthy were the contributions from high clarinet, principal horn and the  battery of percussion. At the end, where Till is sentenced to death, the mock funeral music was magnificently tongue–in–cheek. And things got even better in Ravel’s La Valse. This is a work which puts the final nail in the coffin of 19th century frivolity. As the music gets more and more out of hand, a sense of frenzy enters into the it and the final slashing of the constant ¾ rhythm of the dance is truly devastating. Ash and his band were excellent advocates for this work and it was a thrilling, but also quite emotionally disturbing, performance.

As an encore we were given a full orchestral arrangement of The Girl from Ipanema. I usually stay well away from orchestral versions of pop songs because
more often than not they are  very poor arrangements of not very interesting tunes. This one was different in every way:  there was a real feeling of big band sound to it, and the brass in particular  relished the opportunity to let their hair collective down. But there was also a lovely section for solo violin, which gave some respite to the festival atmosphere of much of the rest of the piece. A fine lighthearted ending to a serious concert.

Bob Briggs

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