Concert for the Children of Gaza [Sir Colin Davis … Karim Said … The Clerks]

Idomeneo – Overture
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Symphony No.104 in D (London)

“Qudduson” – Sequence

Karim Said (piano)

The Clerks / with Lena Chamamyan (soprano), Yasser Khayri (baritone) & George Qas-Barsoum (bass)

English Chamber Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 March, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin DavisThis was a “Concert for the children of Gaza” presented by Al Farabi Concerto, Sir Colin Davis – and one imagines the other artists, too (but Sir Colin was singled out regarding this) – donating his services. Numerous relevant links below; otherwise this was a concert! One that was originally to be played by the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra and feature Paul Lewis. The Oman ensemble was unable to appear and Lewis fell away and left space for Karim Said (born 1988) to step in.

There was an element of ‘final rehearsal’ to the English Chamber Orchestra’s performances, the players’ professionalism and Sir Colin’s enthusiasm holding things together, and peaking in the Haydn. The overture to “Idomeneo”, although generously sounded and expressed, lacked theatrical edge, and the accompaniment to the piano concerto (Lewis was down to essay K595) wasn’t as settled as ideal. But Karim Said (no doubt very talented, enough for Christopher Nupen to make a film about him) was, in the outer movements, lacking in colour and dynamic variety, and prone to quite a few mishaps. More measured tempos would have allowed Said time to shape and focus; Sir Colin seemed a willing partner, yet a restraining hand would not have gone amiss. However, when Said reached the first-movement cadenza (Mozart’s own), he found a poise that was revealing and carried it through to the Adagio, here rapt and sublime.

Before the vocal contribution, Edward Wickham (founder and artistic director of The Clerks) felt moved to ask the audience to refrain from applauding until the end of the performance, not doubt prompted by such intrusiveness during the Mozart. Unfortunately, although Wickham’s request was respected, this invasion then returned to blight the Haydn! Anyway, “Qudduson” was wonderful, a sequence from a larger project (which is being toured) that “presents Middle Eastern chant and Western polyphony side-by-side”. Plainsong mingling with Syriac liturgy, Islamic music and songs from Armenia made for intense expression, superbly performed by The Clerks and guests, all the voices carrying effortlessly – note – without the need for amplification.

Haydn’s final symphony then received an inspiring performance, majestic, shadowy and pregnant in the slow introduction, the ensuing Allegro decidedly sprightly and played with spontaneity and delight, something sustained throughout the four movements, not least the virile Minuet (Davis taking the Allegro marking literally) and in a finale that captured its summation and valediction (as well as the poignancy of the latter) in equal measure.

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