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Kodàly, Rodrigo, Mendelssohn:  London Mozart Players, Jadran Duncumb (guitar), Jaime Martín (conductor). Cheltenham Town Hall, 22.1.2011 (RJ)

The enterprising London Mozart Players ventured from their normal stamping grounds into the 19th and 20th centuries in this concert starting with Dances of Galanta, named after the town where its composer Kodaly spent seven of his childhood years. Based on the dances the Austrian army used for recruitment purposes, they also feature passages of pure nostalgia – in the first dance marked Lento Maestoso, for instance, with its haunting theme introduced by the cellos and sounds of nature from the woodwind section. Indeed, the latter were on excellent form throughout the concert, as if determined to impress their conductor Jaime Martín, a distinguished flautist in his own right. But the ever-changing and skilfully orchestrated music, played with exceptional clarity, was dominated by lively Hungarian dance rhythms performed with gusto and military swagger by the strings.

Spain was the next port of call to hear Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, in which the soloist was 21 year old Jadran Duncumb. Sheffield-born Jadran spent many of his teenage years in Norway where he won numerous prizes for his playing and also came first in the strings category of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Needless to say, he is an accomplished performer, and that was evident from the start with its gentle guitar solo which beguiled the ear. The nervous two beat/three beat rhythm was taken up by the orchestra, but at no time did the Players drown out the guitar. This is partly because the guitar is silent during some of the more rhapsodic orchestral passages, but mainly because of the firm control Mr Martín exercised over the orchestra without diminishing the quality of their playing. The cor anglais introduced the theme of the Adagio, so popular with brass bands throughout the country, and this developed into a relaxed conversation between the guitarist and the woodwind ending with a cadenza. This began gently and unobtrusively before becoming more engaged and flamboyant allowing the soloist to demonstrate his very considerable technical skills. The Allegro Gentile, with its alternating three four two four rhythm and recurrent theme which appears in numerous guises, offered plenty of scope for both orchestra and soloist, but it was the latter who had the final word. Jadran Duncumb is living proof that you don't have to be a Spaniard to play Spanish guitar music convincingly. Is he the next Julian Bream I wonder?

After exercising such commendable restraint during the Concierto the 40 strong LMP were clearly ready to “give their all” in Mendelssohn's Third Symphony (“Scottish”). The composer had begun the work in 1829 after his tour of Scotland, but he did not get round to completing it until 1842. There is a strong Scottish element to the work and I could not help comparing the first movement with his “Hebrides” Overture. Here the orchestration is more complex, the mood more varied and dramatic, and it certainly felt that way with Jaime Martín's strong, flowing interpretation which began jauntily under blue skies and then developed into a Force 7 gale, which the gallant 40 took in their stride. The second movement sounded like a Scottish ceilidh, though I was hard put to recognise any of the melodies, and taken at a brisk pace it proved to be great fun. There was an authoritative feel to the expressive Adagio which felt more Germanic in tone and was darkened by a sombre march-like theme in the middle. One of the directions in the final movement is Allegro Guerriero (fast and warlike) prompting me to wonder whether Mendelssohn was aware of the Jacobite rebellions and other battles from Scotland's turbulent past. Jaime Martín steered his troops through the skirmishes with a steady hand culminating with a triumphant maestoso coda which benefited from some superb playing from the horns. The LMP may be considered a chamber orchestra but there was nothing small or chamber-like about this barnstorming performance.

Roger Jones


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