Guildhall Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martín at Barbican Hall – Bartók & Brahms

Concerto for Orchestra
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Guildhall Symphony Orchestra
Jaime Martín

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 20 March, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Jaime Martín. Photograph: Alexander LindströmWe have come to expect high standards from ensembles that comprise students of London music colleges, but the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Bartók’s exacting Concerto for Orchestra was practically flawless. This remarkable achievement was no doubt due to Jaime Martín’s precise, controlled yet sympathetic conducting. He had the sensitivity to give his young players room to breathe their phrases in solo passages, and like so many nascent musicians they responded eagerly. It was a big group of players, too. The row of ten double basses at the back of the platform provided a firm foundation, and all the string sections had a lovely warm quality. The woodwind soloists played with precocious artistry, and the brass was clear and confident in its many taxing contributions.

Spaniard Martín (formerly principal flute of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and now building a conducting career) brought out the work’s poetic qualities more than is usually the case, and though he didn’t restrict its exuberant, outgoing nature it was good to hear an account that plumbed expressive depths, and avoided brash showpiece presentation. Martín did however set a fast tempo for the finale, and his young players responded brilliantly.

After the interval a rather different Guildhall Symphony Orchestra emerged. Most of the wind-players were new, many of the first violins had exchanged places with the seconds, and there were other swaps and replacements. This was not altogether to the good, for in the Brahms there were a number of rocky moments in the horn section, and overall there was a slight raw aspect. This didn’t mar a most satisfying reading, however. Martín led a beautifully rich, lyrical account of the first movement, his gestures encouraging convivial expression. He moved the Andante moderato second-movement along at a reliable basic tempo, while again giving room for responsive phrasing. The scherzo was slightly faster than usual, but not so much as to lose its bluff good humour and the varying moods of the finale’s passacaglia/variations were vividly painted. All in all, this was an impressive and moving performance.

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