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Warlock, Mozart, Liszt, Haydn: Nikolai Demidenko (piano), European Union Chamber Orchestra/Zoltán Tuska (director), Westmorland Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, 12.3.2011 (MC)

Capriol Suite
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K.271 Jeunehomme
Liszt: Angelus! Prière aux anges gardiens
Haydn: Symphony No. 59 in E minor, Feuer (Fire)

Formed in 1981 the European Union Chamber Orchestra comprises of young professional musicians from the member countries of the European Union. The EUCO receive an annual operating grant through the European Commission. On the evidence of the high performance standard heard at Kendal the chamber orchestra would appease the most fervent Eurosceptic.

Opening the programme was the Capriol Suite for strings from Peter Warlock; certainly his best known composition. A troubled composer with a chaotic life, Warlock, whose real name was Philip Heseltine, wrote the score in 1926 whilst residing in the Kent village of Eynsford. Based on a manual of Renaissance dances the suite beguiled and entertained the audience. Right from the opening measures the quality and tone of the chamber orchestra was evident. It wasn’t difficult to imagine elegantly attired nobles dancing at a fashionable European court. Directing from the violin Zoltán Tuska encouraged an exuberant and glowing performance from his talented players. Especially enjoyable was the serene playing of the stately Pavane and the vivacious Mattachins sent the suite hurtling to its conclusion with real intensity.

Russian born British soloist Nikolai Demidenko provided the highpoint of the evening with his captivating performance of the Piano Concerto No. 9, K.271 by the twenty-one year old Mozart. Known as the Jeunehomme it has been said that Mozart was inspired by the Salzburg visit of a French pianist called Mademoiselle Jeunehomme. Whatever its origins the distinguished pianist Alfred Brendel has described the score as, “one of the wonders of the world… it was Mozart’s first great masterpiece.” Demonstrating an indubitable technique Demidenko’s characterful playing had depth and gravitas. I loved the drama of the opening movement Allegro and the beautifully paced and articulated Andantino created profound passion and anguish like the pain of unrequited love. The Finale designed as a Rondo: Presto was played with a firm sense of forward momentum. Demidenko peeled off the joyous surface veneer to reveal a dark-hued tension simmering beneath. After such thunderous applause it was no surprise that Demidenko treated the enthusiastic Kendal audience to an encore. You could have heard a pin drop for Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor delightfully played, both thoughtful and poetic.

In this Liszt Bicentennial year it was good to hear Angelus! Prière aux anges gardiens, a devotional prayer to Guardian Angels. Originally one of the piano pieces from Liszt’s third set of Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) this arrangement for string orchestra was made in 1882. There cannot have been too many audience members who had heard a performance of this version before. An even-tempered score inspired by the tolling of the Angelus bells in Rome, the chamber orchestra’s playing of it wove a canvas of reverential contemplation. There was a warmly romantic tone to the string section interlaced with playing of impressive unison. The brief passage for soaring high strings was gloriously spun. 

The chamber orchestra and their director Zoltán Tuska had more chance to excel with Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 in A major known as the Feuersymphonie (Fire Symphony). A relatively early work composed around 1766/67 not long after Haydn had become Kapellmeister at Esterházy the score requires pairs of oboes and horns in addition to the strings. The opening Presto complete with its sudden dynamic contrasts just crackled along with joy and drama followed by a dignified slow movement almost wholly for the strings. Haydn’s gracious yet cheerful Minuet preceded the contrasting Finale: Allegro assai  - terse, upbeat and marked by abrupt dynamic shifts. Enthusiastic applause was rewarded by an encore of the fascinating Finale from Haydn’s Symphony No.44 Trauer (Mourning) with its unexpected minor key conclusion.

Michael Cookson


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