Candide – Overture
Violin Concerto, Op.14
Romeo and Juliet [selections from Suites 1 & 2]
Gil Shaham (violin)
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 20 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Three works in a short but well-balanced programme of 20th-century classics ensured a packed house on a very warm spring night.
Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” is the perfect curtain-raiser and Kirill Karabits didn’t disappoint, drawing sparkling playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra in an account that was by turns witty, stylish and snappy.
Gil Shaham has performed Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto countless times as well as recording a celebrated account with André Previn and the LSO almost twenty years ago. Thankfully, in Barber’s centenary year, there was little sign of ennui, his warm, understated tone perfectly complimenting Karabits’s passionate and highly dramatic accompaniment. Shaham’s eccentric platform behaviour (he moves around over such a wide area you think he’s going to topple into the orchestra) didn’t distract from his playing, his sweetness of tone and secure technique the ideal requirements in the lyrical first two movements and the spiky finale. Less overtly romantic than in his studio recording, there was nevertheless no lack of intensity of feeling in a performance that stayed well clear of the pitfalls of sentimentality. With playing more on the meditative side in the central Andante, it was left to Karabits to provide the fireworks with dramatic climaxes aided by richly expressive string-playing and a mellifluous opening oboe solo from David Theodore. The finale was a tad slower than usual, maybe not as much fun but with the fiendish passages of double-stopping carried off with such nonchalance one could forget why anyone ever made a fuss about its difficulties.
The eight selections from Prokofiev’s ballet-score of Romeo and Juliet were culled from the first two Suites (there is a third) that the composer made. Karabits produced a vivid, high voltage reading, the Philharmonia in splendid form (the strings full and ripe all evening) with many colourful contributions. Highlights included a savage ‘Death of Tybalt’ played at lightning speed and with an exactness of ensemble that was breathtaking. There was tenderness and subtlety, too; in the ‘Friar Lawrence’ number, the muted winds and weeping cellos signposted impending tragedy. Some odd disfigurations in the sweeping string melodies of the ‘Balcony Scene’ were a distraction but the sense of utter despair in the closing ‘Romeo at Juliet’s Grave’ was heart-rendingly conveyed.