Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)
Royal College of Music Sinfonietta
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 3 July, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
No overture being offered – as is regrettably typical today in concert planning – it was straight into Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a serene work, but in a truly great performance more than this can be revealed. There is indeed a sense of power and struggle set against repose that places a feeling of conflict into some sort of context. This is the essence of Beethoven.
Any soloist should try and reconcile these differing emotions. On this occasion serenity overlaid a more muscular approach, particularly in the long first movement, and certain dimensions were lacking. Tamsin Waley-Cohen is a gifted virtuoso with excellent intonation and the ability to reveal music’s poetic sensibility. But she has yet to bring out the contrasting elements in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The inward passages were beautifully played but did not display a truly sublime quality because they lacked context.
However what this masterpiece did not lack was an invigorating sense of energy, thanks to the efforts of Robin O’Neill who propelled the opening movement exposition with vigour and passion. This was, however, somewhat dissipated by the entry of the soloist; her gentle, graceful playing slowed the momentum. The most successful and integrated movement was the finale in which a joyous dancing element was to the fore.
No wonder Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony was poorly received at its premiere in 1936. Any self-respecting critic of the time would find such overt romanticism hard to take. Despite being in the rare and sombre key of A minor (as are Mahler 6 and Sibelius 4), Rachmaninov poured his emotional heart into his last symphony. Any performance has to reconcile the symphony’s rather convoluted structures. Robin O’Neill let the music speak for itself with tempos that never dragged. He animated his players with a clear, precise beat, which ensured excellent ensemble. This was an inspired performance and which included the exposition repeat in the first movement.
Before the Rachmaninov, Lord Winston said a few nice words about the RCM Sinfonietta. I could not help but reflect on my afternoon spent watching a Boys Doubles at Wimbledon where the British pair, a good twelve inches shorter than the foreign opposition, had to contend unsuccessfully with serves at 135 mph. In music our country provides the very best example of allowing talented young people to display their prowess. We might struggle to find winners in tennis but have no fear of comparison to anyone, even those from Venezuela, when it comes to our young musicians.