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Sibelius, Miklós Rózsa and Shostakovich: Warren Zielinski (violin), London Phoenix Orchestra, Levon Parikian, St John’s, Smith Square, London, 28.4.2010 (BBr)

Finlandia, op.26/7 (1899/1900)

Miklós Rósza: Violin Concerto, op.24 (1953/1954)

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, op.93 (1953)


Starting with huge, raucous, chords from the brass – I do feel that the common, uncouth touch works here – Finlandia got this show off to a fine start, and the subsequent swirling strings and rampant brass fanfares were beautifully balanced by some exquisite woodwind playing in the first appearance of the Finlandia Hymn. At the end, the brass tamed and refined helped the work end in a real blaze of glory.


Miklós Rózsa’s concert music has not, yet, gained a real foothold in this country – we must be grateful that there are plenty of recordings available. There is still time, for we mustn’t forget that it took over 40 years for Korngold’s concert works to be accepted, and it was his Violin Concerto which really got things going. But it’s that pejorative term film music which still hangs like an albatross round Rózsa’s neck, as it did Korngold’s. Rózsa wrote his Concerto for Heifetz, who also championed Korngold’s Concerto, and it speaks of the composer’s native Hungary. If you’re going to write a Concerto for Heifetz you have to make it a virtuoso showcase and give the soloist something to do. Here I am reminded of the composition of the Concerto by Louis Gruenberg in 1944. Whilst work was progressing on it, the violinist visited the composer and had a look at what he had written. “It’s too difficult,” Heifetz said. Gruenberg, not to be non-plussed, replied, “but you’re Heifetz!” He played the work without further comment! Rózsa created a romantic, three movement, work for Heifetz, which is colourful, rhapsodic, full of the most fiendish writing – including two cadenzas – and scored it for a large orchestra which includes piano and harp. There must be problems of balance with such a rich scoring but never once tonight was the soloist inaudible, Parikian ensuring that his orchestra understood that this was a joint effort and they were on an almost equal footing with the violin, and must allow him his say. It was said that Paganini must have been in league with the devil to be able to play as he did. If this were so, then Warren Zielinski must have signed a similar pact for his playing defied what would seen possible, let alone plausible, on his instrument. He was in full control throughout and played with such authority that one would have thought that he had played the work all his life, so well did he understand the soul of the music. Although there is Hungary in every bar, it is the Hungary of Dohnányi (at one entry of the cor anglais in the slow movement I thought, for a moment, that we were going to hear the 4th movement of that composer’s Symphonic Minutes!) more than Bartók, for, despite the nationalistic feel, this is a work with a broader European accent. Full marks to everyone for this performance, for it served to prove just what a fine composer Rózsa was, and what an astonishing fiddler Warren Zielinski is!


Shostakovich released his 10th Symphony a few months after the death of Stalin, and he subsequently made mention of the fact that the violent scherzo was a portrait of the great Leader and Teacher. It’s a big work, and Parikian had the full measure of it. The long first movement was skilfully handled, and there was a constant feeling of disquiet throughout; the three themes were clearly stated and the build to the earth shattering climax was masterly. Best of all was the quiet duet for piccolos at the end where things are brought to an uneasy conclusion. Parikian chose a more deliberate tempo for the scherzo and this way the music was both frightening and demonic – I must admit that the hairs on the back of my neck stood as this music flew past us. There was some real firey playing here. The intermezzo third movement had a lovely pastoral feel and the finale, again slightly slower than usual, brought proceedings to a rousing conclusion, but even after knowing this work for some 40 years, I am not sure that the ending is quite right for it doesn’t fully satisfy as do the endings of the 4th, 5th, 8th and 13th Symphonies. Perhaps it’s Shostakovich thumbing his nose at what has gone before in his life. No matter, this was a fine interpretation which contained excellent ensemble playing, and some marvellous solos, especially from bassoonist Oliver Galletta, and a lovely cameo from leader Catherine Lindley at the end of the third movement. Owain Williams must also be applauded for his virtuoso role at the timpani.


Bob Briggs


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