La forza del destino – Overture
Variations on the St Anthony Chorale, Op.56a
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2
Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music
London Symphony Orchestra
Martin Cotton (Non-voting Chairman)
Sir Richard Armstrong
Award presented by HRH The Duke of Kent
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 2 October, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The bi-annual Donatella Flick Conducting Competition has been with us again. The Final featured three hopeful conductors (whittled down from the 20 that had taken part in Stage 1 two days earlier, conducting Mozart, Beethoven and Tippett with the Guildhall School of Music Orchestra). Then there were 10 (Haydn, Mendelssohn and Tansy Davies) … then three. The main prize is to be the LSO’s Assistant Conductor.
Each of the three finalists conducted the Verdi. First up was Ariane Matiakh (French, born 1980). Sylph-like but with grand curvaceous gestures, she had a decisive view of this terrific overture, one based on dramatic tempo contrasts. With a fair dusting of greasepaint, this was Verdi bordering on melodrama, and somewhat pile-driving by the end.
Michael Francis (British, 1976) and David Afkham (German, 1983) took a straighter view, Francis’s the more operatic view, Afkham presenting more of a ‘concert overture’. Francis allowed the strings to ‘weep’ a little too much and some fortissimos were somewhat noisy, whereas Afkham was the least dramatic and most cohesive, if just a little anonymous.
Lots determined who conducted the other set works. Matiakh led the Brahms with well-judged tempos if little textural differentiation initially. She seemed more attuned to the slower or spectral variations and caught well the solemnity of the final one, making it a proper summation.
Francis – a double bassist in the LSO and no stranger to rehearsing his colleagues or indeed giving concerts with them (if he won, would he be able to play and assist, one wondered?) – took on Daphnis and achieved a magical opening, translucent and sensual, transporting. Fluctuations of tempo were dramatically convincing and there was plenty of expressive leeway for Gareth Davies’s flute solo. As in the Verdi, though, colourful fortissimos rather got the better of Francis, thus the concluding ‘Danse générale’, exciting in one sense, needed a more refined ear to catch Ravel’s particular aesthetic.
Afkham seemed a little vague in his Wagnerian intentions. The playing was the least secure, too, with several brass bloopers, although the fibrous-sounding cellos in the ‘Rhine Journey’ music certainly caught the air, although the more exultant moments were either somewhat regimented or to nippy; the ‘Funeral Music’ (beginning after too long a pause) certainly blazed (partly because the brass was too loud) if not with all details quite in place to make the full effect.
Based on just the Final, my nod would have gone to Ariane Matiakh, but there wasn’t much in it. The Jury opted for David Afkham (who seemed to have a troupe of demonstrative supporters in the audience).
The next Donatella Flick Conducting Competition is in November 2010.