Capriccio brillante on the Jota Aragonesa
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Symphony No.3 in D, Op.29 (Polish)
Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 26 October, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The London Philharmonic Orchestra is making good use of the Queen Elizabeth Hall this season (and presumably next) with some enterprising programmes. The rarities heard here framed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, with Pieter Wispelwey the hard-working soloist. Too much so, perhaps, for the good of the music: certainly in the opening movement – where, after an inhibited account of the orchestral tutti, Wispelwey seemed intent on wrestling the music to the ground; and with an interventionist approach that left the main themes rather shapeless. Yet the development was formally more focussed, with an impulsive ascent into the reprise of the ‘big tune’ and a confident follow-through to the close.
While there is no doubting Wispelwey’s technical command and total dedication, his astringent tone does tend to coarsen under pressure – robbing the Adagio of necessary repose in its self-communing outer sections (lovely woodwind playing from the LPO principals), even though the agitated central section was fervently characterised. The finale had the right measure of robust energy, while the touch of suavity in its subsidiary themes suggested that Wispelwey was at last unwinding. And, though it could have taken a degree more nostalgic intensity, the ‘in memoriam’ coda was tenderly given, leading raptly and inevitably into the all-too-fatalistic triumph of the closing bars.
Wispelwey has assumed the role of Soloist-in-Residence with the LPO for the next five seasons and, on the basis of this showing, his performances with the orchestra will be anything but predictable.
As to the rarities mentioned above, Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa, also known as the First Spanish Overture, is a resourceful fantasia deploying traditional and popular melodies in a way that is far removed from potpourri, with an effervescence to the scoring that reminds of Glinka’s close friendship with Berlioz. A reminder, too, that even if Glinka had not set the Russian operatic tradition in motion, his select but vital handful of orchestral works would be sufficient to guarantee him a place in musical history.
Vassily Sinaisky was fully at home in what, over recent decades, has become regrettably marginal repertoire – securing a performance of real discipline and dash; qualities that also distinguished the account of Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony. The least heard of his symphonies, this is almost unique in Russian musical literature of the era in having five movements – the central Andante framed by an intermezzo and scherzo. The former, with its lilting ‘alla tedesca’ rhythm, can seem superfluous to the work as a whole, and it was to Sinaisky’s credit that it emerged as the modest and attractive character-piece that it is. As this pays tribute to Schumann, so the scherzo does likewiseto Mendelssohn, and Sinaisky brought out its quicksilver charm and evocative string effects. Yet the Andante is the highlight – a beautifully proportioned movement which, in its wistful melancholy and unforced pathos, is hardly a lesser achievement than the angst-ridden slow movements following it. Suffice to say that Sinaisky unified its balletic and symphonic elements to often-moving effect.
The outer movements are rather less finely achieved, though the first emerges from its portentous introduction into an allegro of real energy – the distinctiveness of its themes compensating for a slightly foursquare development (Tchaikovsky was never comfortable doing things the ‘German way’), and with a headlong coda that here lacked nothing in excitement. If the polacca-style finale, the only specifically ‘Polish’ attribute of the work’s unofficial subtitle, is rumbustious rather than exhilarating, this was hardly the fault of Sinaisky – who worked its sometimes hectoring elements (including one of the composer’s dutiful fugal passages) into an apotheosis whose flair markedly outweighed its bombast.
The Polish is an uneven but characteristic product of Tchaikovsky’s early maturity – and, as such, worth more than an occasional revival. That it made the impression it did was due to the LPO’s conviction, and also Sinaisky’s evident belief in its merits.