Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Peter Jablonski (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 11 April, 2013
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
On the face of it, a popular Russian programme, but each piece has good musical reasons for its popularity, and the familiarity means that an audience will in some instances be more critical of what is offered in the way of performance – in other words, we all know (or think we do) how this music should go. But when you have a conductor as pre-eminently gifted as Alexander Shelley, even the most hard-bitten (or should we say experienced) of music critics and regular concert-goers will wish to hear his approach to such well-loved music.
Last year, on seeing Alexander Shelley conduct for the first time, I remarked on the quality of his musicianship, which reminded me of Thomas Beecham’s commanding approach. This programme reinforced that impression. It was certainly a programme that Beecham could have conducted. Shelley’s accounts of the Tchaikovsky and Rimsky were exemplary: powerful and sensitive, without ever hurrying but certainly fast when required and beautifully shaped. The result was that we were treated to very well-prepared and finely executed accounts of both masterpieces, with consistently fine playing and leader Clio Gould as excellent as usual in the violin solos of Scheherazade.
In Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody – an equal masterpiece – Shelley and the RPO proved to be outstanding partners to an outstanding pianist. The work was marvellously played, and most coherently shaped, by all concerned. Peter Jablonski’s decision to omit the ossia chords in Variation XIV was a brilliant stroke, enabling us to hear the orchestra alone: almost every soloist who plays this virtuoso piece cannot resist the ‘chunky’ writing here, but by omitting it, as Jablonski demonstrated, the music is enhanced.
All in all, a memorable programme under an outstanding young conductor – but it is German music-lovers who get the most of Alexander Shelley: he’s been the greatly admired music director of the Nuremberg Symphony for some years – can no British orchestra entice him to a permanent position?