CAARE Charity Concert

Overture in D, In the Italian style, D590
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.1 [Revised Version]
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World) [World premiere of original manuscript version]

Clemens Leske (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Denis Vaughan

Reviewed by: Hayden Jones

Reviewed: 17 May, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Denis Vaughan’s programme notes for this charity concert in aid of his Council for the Advancement of Arts, Recreation and Education (CAARE) promised much, which included some fascinating anecdotes about Beecham’s conducting techniques and how Vaughan had learned a great deal from his mentor. Vaughan also contributed informative and impassioned essays about each of the works being performed. He summed up by saying that in great music “there is always something more to discover – new worlds of expression to explore”, presumably no pun on Vaughan’s edition of the ‘New World’ Symphony prepared from Dvořák’s manuscript score.

The delightful Schubert overture set the scene for much of what was to come, but with little of the spark, wit or sheer elegance that a Beecham-inspired performance would produce – but that would certainly be asking too much. Instead we were given a satisfactory performance: the woodwinds, which play such a prominent part in this piece, were never given any real chance to sparkle. Vaughan’s notes again promised much: he wrote of how he learnt some of the secrets behind the Vienna Philharmonic’s unique sound whilst studying with its principal double bassist (Vaughan was a bassist in Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic); but there was little evidence of anything Viennese.

In the Debussy, the LPO did its best but Vaughan’s rigid conducting style coupled with a minimal amount of rehearsal time meant that he just wasn’t able to get the results that (I hope) he wanted.

Australian pianist Clemens Leske’s Rachmaninov brought a much-needed shot in the arm. He was completely at home in this concerto – with well-judged and authentic-sounding rubato his interpretation was never over the top or showy. His musicality and pianism make this guy definitely one to watch!

And so to the Dvořák: Denis Vaughan is currently in the process of editing new performing editions of Dvořák’s symphonic works. This one of the 9th doesn’t feature anything new in the way of music but it does follow the composer’s markings to the letter (unlike the New York premiere in which some of the parts were incorrectly copied from the manuscript). These markings were generally either overlooked or standardised when the symphony was first published in Germany. Vaughan has sought to restore the composer’s unique way of scoring – sometimes treating each instrument individually or achieving a certain type of weighted chord throughout the orchestra by assigning different types of accent or dynamics to individual instruments at the same time.

It really is a shame that Vaughan wasn’t afforded more time to rehearse with the LPO because his vision of this symphony has the potential to be a classic performance. However, to these ears, the overall differences were quite subtle: an unusual-sounding balance, here, a more prominent woodwind or viola, there. The tempo for the first movement was broad by today’s standards though not excessively so; regarding the fluctuations of speed, the LPO still hadn’t settled into Vaughan’s direction, but they managed to follow his lead. The Largo was undeniably the concert’s highpoint, with a breathtakingly spacious tempo. Here Vaughan and the LPO were really working together, turning this oft-abused music into an ethereal vision of beauty. Some of the most noticeable changes came during the scherzo with different accents and balances aplenty. There was a hair-raising moment when the strings got lost, but they got back on the saddle and steered an even more vigorous course through the finale, which was as dramatic an account as you could expect to hear.

Once Denis Vaughan’s work on Dvořák’s manuscripts is done we can expect fresh accounts of these magnificent works.

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