ECO/Leppard Nicola Benedetti

Schumann
Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra, Op.86
Bruch
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Schubert
Overture ‘in the Italian Style’ in C, D591
Mendelssohn
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

John Thurgood, Andrew Sutton, Richard Berry & Peter Blake (horns)

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

English Chamber Orchestra
Raymond Leppard


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 29 November, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

An uneventful concert but one full of stylish and considered music-making, occasionally uncertain, but full of good intentions.

It was good to see Raymond Leppard back in London, a far more versatile and wide-ranging musician that is perhaps appreciated; in recent times he has been in the States (as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) and has develop his activities as an author and a film-music composer. Difficult to believe that Leppard turns 80 next year! He doesn’t look it and remains a vital and genial conductor.

This programme, a hit at the box office, had novelty-value in the form of Schumann’s Konzertstück for four horns. This performance took a while to ‘take off’, but yielded some heartfelt expression in the central movement and some deft playing in the finale, with something kept in reserve for a nifty increase of speed in the final bars. Throughout, the horn foursome were admirably accurate, and with no recourse to a fifth player (which is sometimes the case), although passages that should lift off the page were rather dour.

For all that it is a wonderful piece, Max Bruch’s G minor Violin Concerto is worryingly ubiquitous, not least as such reliance on it allows little room for his ‘other’ violin-and-orchestra music (two further concertos, the Scottish Fantasy, a substantial Serenade, and numerous short works). The performance here of Concerto No.1 was admirably non-indulgent but failed to generate atmosphere. Nicola Benedetti, secure of technique, tended to press too hard on the strings, which brought an intensity that was rather too over-wrought for this work, and the too fast tempo for the finale made it rather angular. Elsewhere, a rather generalised approach made this very familiar work seem a little tired.

The ECO and Leppard came into their own in the second half, but not before the ‘ECO String Quartet’ (Stephanie Gonley, Annabelle Meare, Jonathan Barritt and Caroline Dale) paid a touching tribute to Emanuel ‘Manny’ Hurwitz who died on 19 November at the age of 87. Hurwitz was for many years the leader of the ECO and the slow movement of a Haydn string quartet (Opus 54/Number 1) was an apt tribute to him, played with feeling. A shame though that some in the audience ignored the request for no applause.

There followed lively accounts of Schubert and Mendelssohn. The former’s ‘Italian Overture’, the one in C, was given with lively pointing and a sense of frolic that was engaging. Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony was similarly frisky and buoyant. The important repeat of the first-movement exposition was observed (and not just for the lead-back bars), and if the middle movements could have done with more relaxation, Leppard’s surprisingly measured tempo for the finale wrapped things up nicely with a fine sense of culmination and well co-ordinated detail.

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