BBCSO/Slatkin – BBC New Generation Artists (30 March)

Saint-Saëns
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33
Ravel
Piano Concerto in G
Brahms
Concerto in A minor for violin, cello and orchestra, Op.102

Jonathan Biss (piano)
Claudio Bohórquez (cello)
Janine Jansen (violin)
Christian Poltéra (cello)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 March, 2004
Venue: BBC Studio One, Maida Vale, London

A showcase for young musical talent, the programme a pleasing mix of two contrasted French pieces neatly counterbalanced by the more extended Brahms.

Claudio Bohórquez immediately impressed, his deeply felt eloquence sustained by natural intensity, his bravura never overwhelming the delightful expression of Saint-Saëns’s thoroughly lovely concerto. Bohórquez produced an engaging tone, one rich and colourful, and put much heart into the soulful passages. A sprightly, detailed accompaniment – the veiled strings in the dainty minuet linger in the mind – completed a collector’s item.

Jonathan Biss – also American, north of the border that Bohórquez is south of – is a pianist who appreciates the links in the note-chain. He is a chemist rather than an alchemist, someone whose thinking can be admired, also his delving into things, and someone who stitches the parts back into a convincing whole. Biss avoided a heavy hand, a percussive thwack, he ’arranged’ the sforzandos in the first movement (the ones Argerich tends to bang) into part of the overall design and melted into the sustained trills of the seductive interlude with much sensitivity. He struck gold with a perfectly judged tempo for the Adagio assai second movement; more Andante, in fact, and successfully avoided the dragging and over-punctuated state this movement can become; fine woodwind and string playing assisted this simple but profound utterance. The finale wasn’t rampaged through – nice – and had some surprising delicacy from Biss (surprising because nobody else does it). There’s something of Alfred Brendel in Biss (maybe Rudolf Serkin … Peter Serkin … certainly his teacher Leon Fleisher). Impressive!

If one wants to play the ’dead ringer’ game, then Bohórquez might be likened to Piatigorsky; and Christian Poltéra (Swiss, but not neutral) to Pierre Fournier. Poltéra has a pleasing graininess to his tone, and executive poise; one would like to hear him play unaccompanied Bach (he almost did at a couple of points in the Brahms). And to whom does one liken Janine Jansen? Ida Haendel when she was 25, maybe. Jansen scores 11 out of 10 for commitment, although she’s just occasionally unkempt and with the odd spurious interjection. It was a fizzing performance though, with a trenchant and vivid orchestral response – Slatkin doesn’t replicate in sound the familiar portrait of a rotund, bearded composer – vivid enough for leader Stephen Bryant to break a string (neatly repaired off-stage by a colleague as violins were passed around).

Stephen had his instrument returned in time for the second movement, which flowed mellifluously, and the finale had brio and passion. Maybe the whole was a little unrelenting, though; a spoonful more quiet playing would have helped – but sparks flew. Brahms is seldom this demonstrative.

This was an inspiring evening that found four distinct musical personalities confident and focussed – one to catch when it’s broadcast on Radio 3 (date not confirmed yet), which hopefully will be as an entity and not excerpted or intermingled within one of the regular R3 formats – as is unhelpfully happening at the moment with some recorded BBC concerts.

This promotion made one wonder about those of the previous generation of musicians who are hyped, made celebrities of, and uncritically venerated by their idolaters: diminishing musical returns is sometimes the result. Hopefully the quartet heard this evening will not fall prey to gratuitous publicity and media intrusion.

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