Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma

Shostakovich
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77 (Op.99)
Petrassi
Partita for Orchestra
Respighi
Pini di Roma

Boris Belkin (violin)

Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma
Francesco La Vecchia


Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 23 January, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

At last the nightingale sang after the wintry wastes of Shostakovich and the equally cold neo-classical sounds of Petrassi. With the warmth of this singing bird heard in this performance, The Pines of Rome by Respighi carried us back to Ancient Rome and the haunting atmosphere conjured up by various areas of this mystical city.

Sinfonica di Roma, founded as recently as 2002, excelled itself in effulgent glory in this Italian masterpiece, with its vast orchestra, spilling up onto the veranda of Cadogan Hall. Francesco La Vecchia controlled his forces with masterful ease and, though it remains a rarity in the concert hall, The Pines of Rome fulfilled expectations for its colourful orchestration and an embracing of human warmth that only a few years ago was regarded as vulgar and beyond the pale.

To begin (no overture, alas, something by Rossini or Verdi would have been ideal) Boris Belkin played Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1. The last time I heard the first movement I cried. This time I was dry-eyed throughout. There is warmth in this music but the soloist rarely produced it. Belkin just could not convey this side of the composer’s personality. The playing sounded remote and distant; the same feeling even occurred in the great slow movement. The scherzo was dashed off in virtuoso style and the finale produced a rousing end.

It was difficult to hear any distinctive qualities of the orchestra in the concerto. The scoring almost works against any such demonstration and certainly, in the scherzo, the woodwind was almost totally obscured by the general activity elsewhere. This is a full-size band with eight double basses at its foundation. Even with a promontory built in front of the stage, two words – sardines and tin-can – sum up the overall impression!

Perhaps the Petrassi would bring something special. No such luck in this early, neo-classical student effort. Petrassi would surely have shuddered at the end of his long life (he died in 2003 aged 98!) if he heard this rather raw and raucous work. It was well played, but with the conductor keeping a firm grip through his rather rigid beat there were few opportunities for individual virtuosity to appear from within the ranks.

And so to the nightingale, preceded by the joyous opening of The Pines of Rome and followed by a fitting climax that would have graced any Hollywood Roman epic. The massed ranks of brass, wind, percussion, strings, and gramophone (!), produced a wonderfully warm sound and individual virtuosity (not necessarily of the fast kind) could be heard from the clarinet and horn players.

After such a fitting climax to end the orchestra’s first visit to London, the encore came as a calming influence. Sounding between Puccini and Elgar, the Notturno by Giuseppe Martucci, a favourite of Toscanini, was a beautiful and fitting end to a concert that began in too cool a fashion but which worked itself up to a wonderful and majestic ending that warmed the cockles of all our hearts.



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