The National Symphony Orchestra has been in existence for close on eighty years, being best-known for an extensive series of recordings for Decca in the 1940s and 50s, and although the orchestra’s concert-giving life remains extensive in terms of breadth of repertoire, it boasts a number of distinguished musicians in its ranks, this was a rare appearance at Cadogan Hall under the Russian-born Rimma Sushanskaya and demonstrated the ensemble’s continuing qualities in the strictly classical repertoire.
This was a demanding programme, and within a few bars of the opening of the Egmont Overture it was clear that the corporate playing was going to be fundamentally notable, a strong unanimity, inner power and vivid characterisation revealed the compulsion of Sushanskaya’s deep musicianship; her tempos and characterisation demonstrating a compelling breadth of experience.
To follow with Pictures was a rare juxtaposition, and whilst there were elements that did not quite match the consistency of players’ regular give-and-take, one admired greatly the strong sense of individual portraying of the movements, without attempting to force them into a kind of seamless symphonic structure; in terms of dramatic feeling and commitment, without reaching the heights of virtuosity, this was entirely free from distortion or lack of balance.
After the interval Jack Liebeck gave a wholly spellbinding performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, full of beautiful yet strong musical temperament by way of a faultless technique, yielding and wonderfully expressive by turns and partnered by the orchestra on top form – as we might have expected from this conductor, herself a pupil of David Oistrakh. As a deserved encore, a rare chance to hear Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra in the version for violin by Liebeck’s teacher Mateja Marinković.
Ravel’s La valse ended the programme: again, this was full of personality and inner life, the inherent tempo finely judged and well-balanced. There was just a hint of rhythmic unsteadiness in the demanding final bars – but here was an account of consistently fine musicianship and imagination. One hopes to hear this conductor and orchestra together again soon.