Overture, Leonore No.3, Op.72a
Piano Concerto No.2 [London Philharmonic Orchestra & Sydney Symphony Orchestra co-commission: European premiere]
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93
Piers Lane (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 17 October, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Vassily Sinaisky’s second London Philharmonic concert in a week began and ended with musical evocations of hope after oppression: Beethoven’s Leonore No.3 Overture encapsulating Leonore/Fidelio’s adventure in rescuing her imprisoned husband Florestan from the machinations of Don Pizarro; and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony was finished after Stalin’s death in 1953, with a tangible feeling of the ‘thaw’ in Soviet relations with its own populace.
Sinaisky is a largely undemonstrative conductor (although that’s not to say he can’t break out of that mould, as he did to encourage even harder beats on the tambourine in Shostakovich’s third movement), and he’s an organic maestro as well, allowing works to speak for themselves, trusting in the composers and his players to achieve the emotional impact that can be marred by those conductors who urge every fingering and note to be invested with additional emotional import. And the results were all the better for it.
Early in the Overture (and this is a rarity) my spine was tingling with some beautiful textures – bassoons and violas in unison against horns, and Paul Beniston’s off-stage trumpet fanfare of salvation ethereally sounding as if from the depths of the organ cavity (the doors open, displaying the currently lopsided view of the Royal Festival Hall’s instrument). Interestingly, of the strings, all but the double bass section were led by guest principals.
In the Shostakovich Sinaisky silently applauded Stewart McIlwham’s piercing piccolo at the end of the second movement’s Stalin portrait and the principal horn’s exquisite recurring motif of young composer Elmira Nazirova (E-A-E-D-A) in the third movement, and there were numerous solo bows at the end, not least guest principal clarinettist John Bradbury (whom Sinaisky knows well from his BBC Philharmonic guest-conducting days). Together they pulled off a searing, involving and cohesive performance.
In between came the European premiere of an extremely likable new piano concerto, the second from Australian composer Carl Vine. A Sydney/London co-commission between for Australian-born, London-resident Piers Lane, he gave the first performance in Sydney in August.
Cast in a traditional three-movement span, with a slow middle one, much of the work is enjoyably rhapsodic. This first movement essays various moods and engenders various musical analogies: a mixture of Rachmaninovian chords and Prokofievesque precociousness to start, then a touch of French Impressionism with a wealth of lovely orchestral interplay. This is a tonal and approachable mix, Vine displaying a deft ear for timbre, including solo and duo roles for the harp, while all eight woodwinds – flute, piccolo, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and double bassoon – are given unique parts. Eventually the opening music returns and builds to a climax, complete with a traditional cadenza spot and battling sets of drums.
The ensuing ‘Nocturne’ opens on brass, lower winds and percussion, the music not just slow, for as Vine puts it, there’s “some surprisingly energetic activity – if only glimpsed by moonlight”. The finale, ‘Cloudless Blue’, evokes an Australian summer’s day. But it’s not all fast music and can suddenly melt into a melodious languor, before picking up speed again to a thrilling close. Piers Lane was in total command and Sinaisky offered an unfussy accompaniment, the LPO members responding with typical aplomb. It’s not a ground-breaking work, but eminently approachable and likable.