London Schools Symphony Orchestra

Lohengrin – Prelude to Act III
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
The Firebird – 1919 Suite

Alexander Markov (violin)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Cern Mansur

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 10 January, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Just another schools’ orchestra playing standard repertoire? Certainly not on this occasion. We might have heard three works that make each of the these composers popular, but the biggest work, Brahms’s Violin Concerto, rightly formed the centrepiece of this Barbican programme. It received an exceptional interpretation by Alexander Markov ably supported by the young players, many of them performing for the first time with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.

Alexander Markov studied with Heifetz, but it was the playing of another Russian émigré virtuoso and contemporary of Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, that this performance brought to mind. Markov’s technique is astounding and it was always placed at the service of Brahms’s lyrical, sometimes tempestuous music. Markov’s playing embodied a living, breathing organism with an ebb and flow that held the imagination throughout. There was a warmth about the interpretation that never declined into the maudlin romanticism that often afflicts performances of this glorious work. The opening tempo set by Cem Mansur was brisk without being brusque and set the momentum for this expansive first movement. There was plenty of passion from the strings and exquisite solo playing from the woodwinds. Indeed, the oboe melody that began the slow movement floated superbly above the warm glow of the orchestra.

Markov is a Paganini specialist and his appearance is reminiscent of the Italian virtuoso. It was appropriate, then, that he played the famous 24th Caprice made immortal by numerous composers. This was another astonishing tour de force, with applause interrupting the piece after a particular fiendish display. Such applause also occurred during the concerto cadenza, written by Markov’s father, a long and unfamiliar composition for which Markov’s playing was breathtaking. People may (rightly) object to such interruptions, but a predominantly young and eager audience is one of the joys of these LSSO concerts. While their parents cough, they themselves sit in rapt silence.

The concert began with the flourish of the “Lohengrin” Act III Prelude; the encore was the Act I Prelude. The former was suitably exciting, with trombones enjoying themselves; the latter achieved a calm poise.

The 1919 Suite from Stravinsky’s The Firebird sparkled and dazzled throughout. Everyone took their opportunities well, including the talented 12-year-old second harpist, a young lady who, based on this performance, surely has a very bright future.

The LSSO often invites guest conductors and Cem Mansur showed a gift for bringing out the latent talents of his eager players with a clear beat and easy gestures. It was gratifying to note among the capacity audience the current Minister for the Arts, who, on the day his boss Tony Blair announced a national “Respect” programme, observed the very best behaviour from a cross-section of wonderfully talented children from London’s schools.

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