Not having heard the sonata for some time, my memory of it, that it has its moments but is not especially distinguished, was substantiated; in its new form, it fails to convince. Grieg used the best ideas elsewhere, and I wish further the rather trite tune that opens the finale, and which comes around too often; but then, the finale is long-winded, repetitive and would be usefully cut!
Also evident are problems of splitting the piano part for orchestra. This is not to do with debating the pros and cons of arrangements many such transformations can be highly successful but whether such an undertaking offers an illuminating new angle. If anything, turning this sonata into a supposed concerto makes the piece appear even weaker. The orchestration is well-enough crafted (with some imaginative use of solo strings in the first movement; curiously, Elgar is suggested at times); yet my overriding impression is that the pianos ability to complement and dialogue being lost leaves the cello in a vacuum, as an obbligato instrument, cello as main character in a rather aimless tone-poem. For all Wallfischs advocacy, somewhat monochrome here, Handleys attentive and spirited conducting, and excellent orchestral playing, my resistance is fuelled by the over-use of cymbal clashes; a colour that palls all to easily and becomes irksome when used so persistently and obviously as here.
Last time he was in London, Vernon Handley stole the show in a Gramophone concert; an inspired LSO account of Baxs Tintagel, a composer very close to Handleys heart. Having interviewed Tod on several occasions, I know hes keen, despite his consistent championing of British music, to be regarded for all areas of the repertoire; it was good then to hear him in Dvorak and Brahms.
In these Friday Series Classics For Pleasure concerts, the LPO gives the audience the choice of opening work. Surprisingly, and gratifyingly, Strausss Till Eulenspiegel wasnt chosen! Dvoraks masterly scherzo, less often heard, for all its caprice and lilt was written in the shadow of his mothers death. Handleys all-encompassing tempo caught the various moods admirably, with plenty of detail elicited, Slavic exuberance and halting-step perfectly interwoven. The cor anglais-led middle section was suitably melancholy Handleys observance of the usually-ignored repeat welcome; its structurally important and he reported the codas fierce determination vividly.
No repeat in the first movement of the Brahms, underlining Handleys directness, throwing an emphasis onto the wistful coda, which Handley curved with heart. This was a carefully judged reading, one that had purpose and resolution, all links in the symphonic chain equally strong, and with a sense of each movement being a constant progress of mood and intensity; thus the animated finale drew the threads together. The unusually tranquil way with which Handley introduced the first movements development the calm before the storm revealed a new facet of the music. This was, in short, a masterly performance. One is tempted to say, a triumph for Tod; he, Im sure, would rather I say, a triumph for Brahms and Dvorak and the LPO.
- The LPOs Friday Series continues on November 9 and 23. www.lpo.org.uk
- RFH Box Office: 020 7960 4201. www.rfh.org.uk
- These artists have recorded Griegs Cello Concerto for Black Box click here to read Ying Changs review
- The Gramophone concert on 8th May 2001, referred to above was reviewed by Colin Anderson click here to read it