LSO James DePreist

Cello Concerto in C
Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor

Moray Welsh (cello)

London Symphony Orchestra
James DePreist

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 28 April, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Wheelchair-bound James DePreist, a polio victim, is 68 and somewhat remarkably this was his London debut. At present he is Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony, Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at the Juilliard School, and he has recently been appointed Conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Over the last 30 years DePreist has been Music Director of the Quebec and Malmo Symphony orchestras and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic. He has made over 50 recordings.

The concert opened with a very romantic performance of the Haydn with the LSO’s joint Principal Cellist Moray Welsh. Both the soloist and orchestra used lavish vibrato and created a sound that was smooth and rhythmically flat with the woodwinds largely inaudible. The Adagio was very slow and the last movement needed more attack. Unfortunately, Welsh’s intonation was often awry – seriously so in the middle of the slow movement – and in the last movement especially his bowing was weak. The non-credited first movement cadenza was intriguing for including a brief reference to Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto.

In the Mahler, DePreist presented the opening fanfares very cleanly with sharply focused ff chords. The march-theme brought a big rallentando, which meant that the ensuing ‘furioso’ section came as a jolt; unlike great Mahlerians such as Barbirolli and Horenstein, DePreist’s tempo changes happened rather than evolved. Much the same problem came with climaxes – they exploded rather than grew out of the music; these two characteristics made the whole movement sound episodic and similar problems would occur throughout the symphony. The stormy second movement had some fine elements including a swaying second subject with superb woodwinds, but the fragmented approach continued with the added problem of a lack of dynamics below mf, and in the big chorale the brass drowned out the strings.

The huge scherzo was too relaxed in tempo. The rhythms at the opening and the ensuing ländler and waltz elements lacked lilt while the first horn’s contribution was under-characterised. To say that the Adagietto is famous would be an understatement. DePreist adopted a broad tempo, but in the opening the harp was too loud; throughout the movement the dynamic range rarely dropped below piano and the phrasing was too smooth. In the finale, the LSO’s ensemble was excellent, but the woodwinds were never allowed to characterise freely and the strings were similarly straitjacketed; like so much else in this performance it was all rather character-less. When the chorale reappeared in the final climax it was less imposing than in the second movement, and there was no sense of triumph or catharsis.

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