LPO/Minczuk – 7 November

Turandot Suite, Op.41 (excerpts)
Tango Suite (arranged Kerkezos)
Scaramouche, Op.165c
I Pini di Roma

Theodore Kerkezos (saxophone)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Roberto Minczuk

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 November, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Friday-evening concerts have often been devoted to ’light classics’, and if tonight’s programme from the London Philharmonic was hardly standard fare, it did have a ’popular’ feel in terms of content and type of music.

As usual with this LPO Friday series, the audience was given a choice of two options for the opening item, and opted for excerpts from Busoni’s Turandot Suite – as opposed to dances from Ginastera’s ballet Estancia. And, whether or not most people were familiar with the music they’d chosen, the response to the four excerpts was an enthusiastic one. Roberto Minczuk’s conducting, moreover, suggested some familiarity with the score: resolute in the opening music for Act 1; suitably capering in the portrait of Truffaldino; keenly evocative in the strange Orientalisms of Nocturnal Waltz; and encompassing the extremes of mood and motion in the final transformation from funeral march to Turkish romp. How about the complete suite at a future LPO subscription concert?

Programming pieces involving saxophone in a classical context is never easy. With a musician whose repertoire is as wide-ranging as that of Theodore Kerkezos, the question of ’crossover’ is easily surmounted, even if his orchestral arrangements of Piazzolla in the Tango Suite – stylish though they are – didn’t fully convey either the passion or the provocation of the Argentinean’s rethink of his country’s national dance. Juxtaposing the ’Fuga y misterio’ and ’Fugata’ made for too similar a musical follow-through, and while the ’Preludio’ set the scene robustly enough, the version of ’Libertango’ was too brief to be conclusive. The undoubted highlight was ’Adiós Nonino’ – suave and sultry, though not forgetting the essentially commemorative nature of the piece.

After the interval, Milhaud’s Scaramouche – in his rarely-heard transcription for saxophone and orchestra that actually reflects the music’s origins more directly than the familiar version for two pianos. It works well too – giving a bittersweet, Poulencian feel to the ’Modéré’, and reinforcing the ’hat in the air’ exuberance of ’Brazileira’. Mellifluous playing throughout from Kerkezos, who must have had written for him a number of concertos that it would be worth introducing to UK audiences. [Kerkezos has a fine CD on Naxos 8.557063, which includes Scaramouche and the lovely Glazunov concerto: Ed.]

And to finish, Respighi’s evergreen Pines (no pun intended!) of Rome, in a performance which really gave Minczuk’s orchestral prowess a chance to shine. From the effervescent opening ’at the Villa Borghese’, the brooding power of the pines ’near a catacomb’ and the unabashed sensuousness of the scene ’at the Janiculum’ were palpably conveyed: leading to the inexorable march to victory along the ’Appian Way’, its unleashing of sonorous splendour (Wagner tubas and organ added for good measure) having the right spine-tingling effect. Currently Co-Artistic Director of the Sao Paulo State Symphony and Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Roberto Minczuk is clearly a musician ’on the rise’ – his future UK appearances keenly anticipated.

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