London Firebird Orchestra/Achim Holub with James Meldrum at St George’s – Egmont Overture, K622, Enigma Variations

Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

James Meldrum (clarinet)

London Firebird Orchestra
Achim Holub

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 March, 2013
Venue: St George’s, Hanover Square, London

Achim Holub. Photograph: London Firebird Orchestra took flight a year ago and is of professional plumage. Its patron is Judi Dench. This attractive collection of pieces opened with the Overture from Beethoven’s music for Egmont. Once passed a ragged first chord the playing was trenchant and vivid, Achim Holub attentive to phrasing and dynamics. If his tempos lacked for dramatic pace at least they were integrated across the whole if rather dogged for the victorious coda. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto was stylishly and meaningfully unfurled by the LFO, just a little scrappy in the strings if rhythmically mobile. James Meldrum gave an elegant, modulated and springy account of the solo part. If the finale was by a hairsbreadth too fast for ultimate shapeliness (Jack Brymer got it about right) then the slow movement was rather special in its eloquence, flowing with feeling and emotional charge.

After Rainer Hersch had plugged the LFO’s April Fools’ Day concert in the Royal Festival Hall, Holub conducted the imperishable masterpiece that is Enigma Variations. It was an uneven affair, though, with some didactic speeds that sapped character and with a tendency for blatant projection in an anyway lively and glowing acoustic. The playing was uncertain at times but there was no doubting the poetic commitment of the musicians, which made ‘Nimrod’ particularly moving and there was some lovely colouring during the two slow variations before the final one. The very end was rather matter of fact and it was a shame that the in-situ pipe organ – in this Handel’s church – wasn’t called upon; still, Elgar deemed its use ad lib, so that’s that!

London isn’t short of orchestras of various statuses – another new-professional outfit, Orchestra Eroica, seems even more recent, while the Kensington Symphony Orchestra fluently bespeaks its fifty-plus years of existence. The LFO may have a slightly rose-tinted view of its current ability by charging £35.00 for a top-price ticket (only one less than for the LSO in the Barbican Hall) and certainly needs to address two notable oversights in its printed programme, notes on the music being played and a list of personnel: I should like to have named the expressive principal clarinettist (Elgar) and the superb timpanist (Enigma and Egmont). But there is much promise here, and if the London Firebird Orchestra’s nest is still being built – permanent members and goodly rehearsal time will help – one wishes much success and musical joy to all concerned.

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