Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Madeleine Easton (violin)
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 23 November, 2011
Venue: The Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Croydon
Playing on gut strings and using wind and narrow-bore brass instruments such as would have been heard up until about sixty years ago, the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra is fundamentally different from the many ‘period’-instrument groups. Whereas they make an informed guess at what music might have sounded like based on musicological research – informed conjecture – the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra is able to evoke more precisely the soundworld of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-centuries because they play on instruments of the era and because there is ample recorded evidence of performing practice. The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra is a window on the past.
The orchestra (the Duchess of Cornwall is its Patron) gives all-too-few concerts, though, so it was doubly gratifying to hear these players in a sympathetic acoustic where this programme was being recorded for issue on the NQHO’s label. The NQHO should also find a concert-home in Central London: Cadogan Hall would be the perfect location in addition to Croydon.
Brahms’s Fourth Symphony sets up particular problems of balance for the ‘modern’ symphony orchestra, today’s more-powerful instruments tending to muddy the waters and preclude transparency except in the hands of the very greatest conductors. By contrast, as became clear on this occasion, played on the instruments similar to those it was written for and played in the style which Brahms might have expected, it takes on a renewed subtlety and clarity. There were particular dividends in the slow movement with much inner wind detail emerging freshly minted (as Jascha Horenstein once wrote on a score: “there is much wonderful music between the lines”) and seamless dovetailing as motifs were passed from winds to strings and back again. Even the movement’s climax – triplets hammered out which can sound aggressively hectoring – here sounded entirely natural with the succeeding string valediction affecting rather than glutinous.
John Farrer’s tempos in all four movements were well-chosen, consistently forward-moving and never dragging. This worked to the music’s advantage, especially in the Allegro giocoso scherzo, exuberant rather than blustering and graced by excellent horns. How welcome too both here and throughout the work to hear a timpanist (Robert Kendell) so sensitive in his choice of sticks; credit too to a fine flute solo in the finale from Helen Keen. Not all was perfect. Farrer could have done more to control and clarify the textures at the first movement’s climactic moments and the trombones in the finale hardly covered themselves in glory.
The concert had opened with an impressive account of the Egmont Overture, a little static in the opening but building gradually to an exultant coda. Max Bruch’s evergreen G minor Violin Concerto (there are two others!) gave credit to Madeleine Easton, the young Australian violinist who stepped in at two days’ notice for the indisposed Lydia Mordkovitch. There were a few minor blips along the way as she negotiated this particular tightrope but she saved the day and gave a thoroughly creditable account.