Estancia – Suite, Op.8a
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua
An American in Paris
Matthew Trusler (violin)
London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 4 January, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Under Venezuelan conductor Carlos Izcaray, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra’s concert of North and South American orchestral fireworks brought plenty of fizzing rhythm to a wet evening. Their programme intertwined two pairs of pieces: one of music written by composers in foreign lands; another of pounding mid-twentieth-century Latin showpieces displaying a kind of vibrancy missing from the contemporary music of Europe. And an outstanding British violinist amply filled the shoes of a legendary forebear.
Alberto Ginastera and Evencio Castellanos were almost exact contemporaries: the latter born in 1915, a year before Ginastera and died a year after him, in 1984. Argentinean Ginastera’s is the more-famous in Europe but both tapped into an infectious rhythmic drive that characterises so much Central and South American art. The four-piece suite from Ginastera’s ballet Estancia (1941) stemmed from a commission from New York impresario Lincoln Kerstein, following a recommendation from Aaron Copland. Copland’s music is an obvious comparison, but Ginastera is less prairie and more heavy-industry, charged as it is with the power of the mechanised society it depicts. ‘Los Trabajadores Agricolas’ (The Land Workers) pounds out a stuttering declamation. These must be muscular workers; their music arrives like a Pacific 231 already at full speed. Even the slow and relaxed music of ‘Danza del Trigo’ (Wheat Dance) is underpinned by a persistent tread. The motoric pace of the LSSO’s playing forged on throughout, even if the strings sounded less than settled.
Castellanos’s piece is cut from the same rhythmically vivid cloth, though his inspiration for Santa Cruz de Pacairigua was the village life of the Venezuelan people whose music interested him. There is a similar recourse to thundering layers of rhythm, Castellanos’s music being the less relentless. It’s central section creates some delicate textures before the dance-climax of the conclusion, several LSSO principals given a chance to shine: muted trumpet help set the scene, while strong turns from principal oboe and cello highlighted some formidable talents in the orchestra.
Maybe the LSSO had seemed at its least cohesive in Korngold’s Violin Concerto, but Matthew Trusler was a top calibre soloist. Written after the Austrian composer’s emigration to Hollywood on the eve of the Second World War, his Violin Concerto seems like the most sugary in the repertoire, but Trusler channelled enough of the spirit of Jascha Heifetz (for whom the work was written) to tone the sweetness down. Initially his tone seemed rather hard, but it softened in the tender ‘Romanze’ second movement. His intonation was flawless and he harked back directly to Heifetz’s own playing with delightfully antiquated shifts and slides; never overdoing it, mind.
Finally, impressions of a foreigner in a bustling city, George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. He returned to New York with a suitcase full of car-horns (and some weighty editions of Debussy’s music); it’s a trump card he plays early in the piece, though it’s almost stream-of-consciousness musical narrative goes takes more than enough twists and turns. A slightly generalised gallop through the work’s first half gave the impression of Izcaray not quite able to keep the orchestra at his heel; otherwise he was amply clear. Best of all was Katie Smith’s superbly coloured rendition of the trumpet’s central melody.