Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis at Cadogan Hall with Tamsin Waley-Cohen & Huw Watkins

Serenade for Strings, Op.6
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings
Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K525
Concerto in D minor for Piano, Violin and Strings

Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)

Huw Watkins (piano)

Orchestra of the Swan
David Curtis

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 19 February, 2013
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

The Orchestra of the Swan’s programme ranged from the barely known to the almost fatally over-familiar, taking in the teenage works of Mendelssohn, the early-adult music of Josef Suk and the mature art of Mozart.

Tamsin Waley-CohenThis rare coupling of early concertos by Mendelssohn gave an insight into his development as a composer. The Violin Concerto in D minor was written in 1822 – Mendelssohn’s thirteenth year – and existed in obscurity until being popularised in the 1950s by Yehudi Menuhin. It’s a world away from the ubiquitous E minor Violin Concerto of 1844 or even, for that matter, the miraculous Octet of 1825: There’s little in the material that is really memorable and the impression is of a composer feeling his way through the mechanics of the music. Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s account of the solo part made a clean and efficient case for its elegantly romantic drama, making the greatest impression in the feisty finale.

David Curtis. Photograph: davidconductor.comWaley-Cohen was joined by pianist and composer Huw Watkins in another rare Mendelssohn concerto, for violin, piano and strings. The piece is heavily weighted towards its long first movement and demonstrates that the slightly older composer had gained in confidence and ability. The violin and piano seem to be genuine equals, but it leaves the orchestra idle for long passages and rarely allows it to enter into dialogue. Waley-Cohen and Watkins were a strong partnership, with Watkins working wonderfully with a solo part rather light on melodic interest.

It’s almost impossible to hear Eine kleine Nachtmusik with open ears, so totally has it been overused as a popular example of genteel classical music. David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan settled for a tidy rendition. Their opening work, Suk’s Serenade for Strings of 1892, was an altogether more rewarding experience, if only in that it afforded an encounter with the music of a composer too rarely heard in concert halls. It is music of considerable charm and no small foresight – certain moments anticipate Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht while others reveal a composer with a keen ear for adventurous modulation. This performance, however, didn’t seek to stretch the dynamic range and, with too many moments of ill-coordination, fell some way short of uncovering its full sweep.

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