Patrick Noronha Camerata – John Carmichael World Premiere

Elgar
Serenade for Strings, Op.20
John Carmichael
Latin American Suite
Sarasate
Zigeunerweisen
Weiner
Divertimento No.1, Op.20
Carmichael
Concierto Folklorico [Revised Version; world premiere]

Anne Applin & Geoffrey Pratley (piano duo)

Orpheus Papafilippou (violin)

Patrick Noronha Camerata
Patrick Noronha [Elgar & Weiner]
Michael Nebe [Carmichael Concierto & Sarasate]


Reviewed by: Jens Fredriksen

Reviewed: 19 November, 2011
Venue: St Michaels and All Angels Church, Bath Road, Turnham Green, London

Perhaps one might not expect Turnham Green to be the place for a world premiere, but this spacious church, with its resonant but uncluttered acoustic, proved ideal for music and for pre-concert and interval interaction with a large and knowledgeable audience; and even the nearby traffic did not intrude.

The programme began calmly with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings – indeed very calmly as rarely can the work have been heard with such unhurried tempos. Patrick Noronha was affectionate although underplayed the contrasting changes of dynamics. The overall impression was of three similar very leisurely string fantasias – an unusual view and had there been quieter playing in the gentler passages, this approach could perhaps have been more convincing; nevertheless the green meadows and the hills of Worcestershire were still suggested.

John Carmichael’s Latin American Suite for four hands at one piano (no orchestra) is high spirited throughout. Each movement takes on the influence of a particular South American dance – the Venezuelan Joropo had the quaintest of rhythms but I found the Cuban Habañera – subtitled ‘Obsession’ – to be particularly fetching with the lower piano part playing an insistent theme twice as an introduction and then infiltrating it again and again while his partner echoed the rhythm in her melodic line while exploring many strange keys. In fact, although Carmichael writes strictly tonal music he seems here to delight in having the top and bottom piano parts playing in keys that are not related to one another and his use of glissando is very striking – especially when used in contrary motion.

Orpheus Papafilippou, who also led the orchestra, was calm and comfortingly accurate in Sarasate’s demanding Zigeunerweisen. Nothing showy here, just confident playing of the right notes (an achievement just to do that). Michael Nebe instilled splendid Gypsy rhythms into the orchestra, matching the soloist’s rhythmic inflections. The folk-rhythms of Leo Weiner’s Divertimento – ‘Old Hungarian Dances’ – are quite different: they are markedly, even exaggeratedly Hungarian. Noronha did not stress the angular nature of these folksy contrasts with quite the force that they deserve. This is charmingly tuneful music with fascinating angry edges – much in the style of Bartók. I do not have a score but I seem to remember that at a previous occasion there was one more movement. The orchestra played with enthusiasm although in one terrifyingly high passage, accurate intonation eluded the violins.

The string orchestra was on top form when accompanying the pianists in Carmichael’s three-movement Concierto Folklorico. This is a new arrangement of his 1965 work for piano (solo pianist) and strings. Nebe was sympathetically at-one with the soloists: a triumphant premiere of this most Spanish of works. John Carmichael has long been fascinated with Spanish musical culture – and for some years he directed a Spanish Dance company. How suitable then that the concerto’s first movement should incorporate Flamenco rhythms. The extensive central movement, ‘La Noche’, is gorgeously atmospheric and although it does not resemble Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain in detail, the evocation of a sultry Spanish night is evoked no less effectively. To entitle the finale ‘Fiestas’ seems inevitable; music at its most joyful. The cadenza achieves complete continuity. Carmichael, while clearly a composer of today, has huge respect for the classical origins of concerto form. I rather liked the final touch of humour when just before the final flourish the player at the bottom end of the piano was required to lean across his partner to hit a note at the very top of the keyboard.

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