The Italian Girl in Algiers – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
John Lill (piano)
Orchestra of the Swan
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 May, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Orchestra of the Swan is based in Stratford-upon-Avon and has leanings to Birmingham. It nips around the English festivals, comes to London, and tours abroad. New music is a common feature of Swan concerts and it has a fine reputation for working in the community. This particular evening was a double-header and involved Swan’s two main conductors. First of all Avie presented the beginning of its recorded Hans Gál and Schumann symphony cycle (launching with these composers’ respective third symphonies, to be issued on 20 June) with Kenneth Woods conducting – he’s the Swan’s Principal Guest Conductor – and Somm was present too for its Swan/Woods issue of arrangements of Mahler’s music, including “Das Lied von der Erde”.
David Curtis, Swan’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, took charge of the concert. He made much of the opening pizzicatos of the Rossini, in both sound and expectation, and there were some notable woodwind contributions, leading to a graceful and ebullient allegro that was also dynamic, as befits music written by “Signor Crescendo”. The Mozart was less successful for all that it was played with similar energy and commitment. Although the first movement was measured, elegant and festive, the tempo tended to increase across the exposition so that its return was faster second time round. The slow movement may be marked Andante, but this was a quick stroll indeed with little evidence of the also-marked cantabile, albeit there was some expressive leeway along the way. The Minuet enjoyed a spring in its step, but the finale, however nimbly played, was hard-pressed and wearing. Full marks to Curtis for observing all repeats, not least the so-important second half of the finale, if here a mixed blessing given the relentless traversal despite spirited and stylish playing and some genial direction on Curtis’s part.
A neat and vivid accompaniment was provided for the Beethoven, although a few more strings would have been welcome, yet the clarification of inner parts and the non-obfuscation of the writing for winds was a pleasure in itself. Distracting tempo increases were evident early-on in the first movement – until John Lill made his entry and took the pace to where it was supposed to be. Lill, in great form, gave a seasoned yet fresh assumption of the piano part, crisply played and musically intelligent, with subtle and telling changes of volume, confiding, delicately accommodating of the orchestra, and with the first-movement cadenza fully integrated into the whole yet not without its own powerful rhetoric. The slow movement was spaciously treated, its initial inwardness sensitively sounded and blossoming into an idyllic reverie, while the finale enjoyed fortitude, poise and lilt culminating in a rambunctious coda.