London Schools Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner with Louis Schwizgebel – Helios Overture, Grieg’s Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony

Helios Overture
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Louis Schwizgebel (piano)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 7 January, 2015
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Edward Gardner. Photograph: © Benjamin EalovegaThe London Schools Symphony Orchestra on this occasion numbered about 100 players. About half of these were under the age of 16 and there were new members who were replacing those who have graduated to higher education in September. For many it was their first appearance on a big stage. I wonder then if Nielsen’s tricky Helios Overture was a wise choice for the opening work. The young players looked and sounded nervous, quite understandably, and despite Edward Gardner’s clear, emphatic direction, the playing was a little tentative and the horn-section members in particular might have been allowed to play themselves in to better advantage as part of a full orchestral texture instead of being so cruelly exposed by the solo passages.

Louis Schwizgebel. Photograph: Marco BorggreveThe arrival of the Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel, currently a BBC Radio 3 Young Generation Artist (he is 27) brought better things. His clear, unaffected yet beautifully lyrical playing in Grieg’s Piano Concerto was a delight. At the beginning of the slow movement the LSSO strings produced a pleasantly warm quality and under Gardner’s watchful guidance the orchestra as a whole gave its soloist decent enough support.

What a pity that the opening two or three minutes of the Rachmaninov Symphony were spoiled by the late return of some audience members after the interval, including from the participating organisations’ hierarchies: no doubt they had to be admitted, but it was a shame they had not curtailed their socialising in good time.

Gardner’s conducting was magnificent interpretatively, from first to last, and once again he showed us what a rare talent he is. He captured the work’s underlying Russian melancholy to perfection; its excursions into slightly unconvincing higher spirits during the opening movement, its descent into quiet resignation for the Adagio, and its brave attempt at cheerful resolution in the finale. Generally speaking the playing was rather better now, with a very good clarinet in the important third movement solo. There was a difficult moment in the Scherzo where the music suddenly brakes and there follows a virtuoso passage for the violins, for here the young players simply couldn’t cope. But never mind, the percussion section banged away effectively in the finale and the work came to a rousing conclusion.

It will have been a tremendous experience for these young people to play under such a conductor as Edward Gardner, and he is much to be commended for taking time to work, as he does, with this and other youth ensembles.

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