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Weber, Saint-Saëns and Shostakovich: Michael Petrov (cello), Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra, James Blair, St John’s Smith Square, London, 2.3.2011 (BBr)

Overture: Der Freischütz (1821)
Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No.1 In A minor, op.33 (1872)
Shostakovich: Symphony No.10 in E minor, op.93 (1953)


This was a well balanced programme, from the high drama of Weber’s Overture to the moodiness of Shostakovich’s great post Stalin symphony. Blair directed a well paced performance of the Der Freischütz Overture, with a finely poised slow introduction and an exciting allegro, with some thrilling horn playing. Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto was bright and sparkling, just as it should be, with the most assured playing from Michael Petrov who displayed a confidence well beyond his years, and which was blessed with masses of passion. Blair gave a superb account of the accompaniment – this is a concerto which is most definitely a work for soloist with orchestra – with the most exquisite dance-like second section and a gorgeously lyrical slow section. The outer sections were full of bravura playing and were most colourful. Petrov and Blair worked well together to breathe real life into this old, but too often neglected, friend.

Blair’s view of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony was dangerously nihilistic but his single–mindedness in interpretation proved to be a winning formula. The long first movement was full of foreboding and Blair judged the subtle gradations of tempo to perfection. He built the huge central climax brilliantly, the feel of stress and strain filling the edifice. The coda for two piccolos was a peaceful haven after all we had experienced, but it wasn’t comfortable. The scherzo was a short–sharp–shock which was devastating in its brutality. The third movement is usually a pastoral scene occasionally disturbed by strange visitors, but tonight there was definitely something nasty in the woodshed. The finale, despite some lightness of texture and ideas, carried the argument purposefully to the end.

The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra played with assuredness, strength and a full understanding of the music, responding to every demand of their conductor, James Blair, with a delight in the act of making music. A marvelous and most satisfying show.

Bob Briggs


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