Rimma Sushanskaya conducts Mozart – Figaro Overture, PC21 K467 (John Lenehan), Exsultate K165 (Grace Davidson), Symphony 40 [Guild]

5 of 5 stars

Le nozze di Figaro, K492 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K467
Exsultate, jubilate, K165
Symphony No.40 in G-minor, K550

John Lenehan (piano)

Grace Davidson (soprano)

National Symphony Orchestra
Rimma Sushanskaya

Recorded 11 December 2018 at Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: September 2019
Duration: 79 minutes



I must declare an interest. I wrote the booklet note for this issue, but did not hear the recordings prior to receiving the finished product. I have also known the conductor personally for twenty years, during which time she has conducted three of my works.

Rimma Sushanskaya was the last pupil of David Oistrakh in her native Russia. As a violinist, she won first prize at the Prague Spring Festival in 1968, subsequently giving concerts throughout Russia, but the anti-Semitic policies of Leonid Brezhnev in the early 1970s put a stop to her burgeoning career. Her family became Refuseniks, and although Sushanskaya eventually managed to leave Russia for the United States, a serious accident in New York damaged her shoulder, causing her to give up the violin for several years. During her convalescence she befriended Rosalyn Tureck; Rimma’s marriage to a British gentleman led her settling in the UK, and following her husband’s death she founded the annual Bach-Paganini Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon, with Tureck as President, which continued for eighteen years. It was for that Festival that I wrote several works.

Sushanskaya has given up playing publicly and in recent years turned to conducting – this release is her first in that role. The music, all by Mozart, is rather like a concert programme in make-up. In one sense, therefore, it can be played straight through.

The National Symphony Orchestra is not a familiar name today in classical record circles, although older collectors will undoubtedly know of it from an extensive series of recordings for Decca from the mid-1940s. However, the NSO is the longest-established fully professional freelance orchestra in Britain, better-known for film and television work. Recently, under Sushanskaya, the NSO has undertaken several classical concerts, principally in London, as well as making recordings, of which this Mozart is the first.

It is superb. Throughout, the fine playing exudes a sense of music-making of rare excellence, fully up to the stature of the music and recalling early concerts of the English Chamber Orchestra and Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The Marriage of Figaro Overture is quite wonderfully performed in a manner that renders attempts at recreating century pitch or performance ‘styles’ of 250 years ago irrelevant. This is genuine music-making by wholly experienced professionals seeking to impart their love of great music.

I have not heard such an utterly convincing and uplifting account of this piece since the days of Sir Thomas Beecham. To follow, that sterling artist John Lenehan is the soloist in K467. From the beginning of the exordium the orchestra is flawless, and Lenehan’s contribution is full of sparkling sensitivity whilst letting the music breathe, so much more perceptive than the rather self-conscious Mozart-playing indulged in by many pianists today. The sense of character here, classically disciplined, is surely what was in Mozart’s mind. (The outer-movement cadenzas, intriguing and enjoyable, are not credited in Guild’s annotation; a quick bit of research reveals that they are Lenehan’s own – Ed.)

In Exsultate, jubilate Grace Davidson is also excellent. Her phrasing and tone-colour are admirable, musically and technically too, and she is very sympathetically partnered. In the G-minor Symphony (as revised, with clarinets) Sushanskaya is most impressive; the internal balance is ideal, the musicians listening to one another as if chamber-playing, keeping the listener anchored to the spot. Her tempos are excellent; the overall accomplishment is admirable.

The recording was made in one day. These performers did not need multiple takes in order to ‘get it right’: here is re-creative musical spontaneity of high quality, rare in classical sessions, and here beautifully captured by Tony Faulkner.

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