London Festival Orchestra/Pople Piers Lane

Divertimento for Strings
Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482
Three Nocturnes, Op.9
Serenade for Strings, Op.48

Piers Lane (piano)

London Festival Orchestra
Ross Pople

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 14 May, 2009
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings (written for Paul Sacher) was composed in the days leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939. The good-natured mood of the outer movements frame an adagio that is anguished, possibly reflecting the imminent horror the world was about to be plunged into. Ross Pople and the London Festival Orchestra were slow off the block. The dances of the first movement felt distinctly earthbound with sluggish rhythms and smoothed-out textures blunting the gypsy-like melodies. The Adagio though was finely judged and well-balanced, Pople capturing the deep sense of unease which pervades this movement . The build-up to the emotional storm was enjoyed some particularly concentrated playing from the violins. The rhythms of the third movement were played with much more elan than the first and the mischievous pizzicato passage in the final section had real wit.

Piers LanePiers Lane’s Mozart was a sparkling affair, a performance of real authority and a distinctly muscular one, freshly and alertly supported by Pople and the LFO, the first movement driven along, propelled by a strongly rhythmic pulse. Hummel’s cadenzas – used in the first and third movements – were unleashed with virtuosity. The Andante, set in a minor key, provides a melancholic contrast to the outer movements. Here one could have wished for a little more lyricism to counteract Lane’s no-nonsense approach, but the tone was suitably dark with particularly fine support from the winds. The finale was nicely relaxed with the dance-like refrain delicately pointed and fully of mischievous intent.

After the interval Lane returned to play the “Solo Piano Interlude” which turned out to be Three Nocturnes, Chopin’s Opus 9. Lane’s playing was by turns sensitive and understated if perhaps somewhat pallid at times and the music would have benefited from a little more rubato.

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings was a disappointment, the 17-piece LFO sounding particularly undernourished and thin in tone. Ensemble wasn’t always precise , particularly in the second movement ‘Waltz’, which danced awkwardly and followed a first movement that was driven far too hard. The ‘Elegia’ was slightly better focused with a little more refinement and colour, but the finale was choppy.

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