Fountains of Rome
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Sarah Chang (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 21 April, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Karabits proved an adept accompanist, and needed to be for Sarah Chang’s wayward reporting of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto (it hardly seems worth putting “No.1” anymore!). Chang was, shall we say, capricious, toying with the piece as well as indulging bodily contortions and poses. Hers was a husky-sounding, rubato-heavy performance (the operative word) that was sometimes invasive to the line of the piece; when the RPO cut loose in the first movement, it seemed out of frustration. The slow movement (well, andante rather than the marked Adagio) was unsettled, its heartfelt simplicity mislaid, and the finale (however energetic) found her playing smudged, scrappy and soaked in vibrato. There was little partnership to speak of, rather a willingness on the part of conductor and orchestra to stick with her (not always achieved), and despite some nicely observed half-lights and understatement on Chang’s part, the overriding impression was of someone who has played this ubiquitous (if endearing) piece rather too often and has lost intuitive contact with it.
Fountains of Rome had opened the concert in wonderful fashion, a fourth trombone not required but joining-in nonetheless, but at least the three trumpets were at the composer’s request. From dawn to dusk in fifteen minutes, a Roman day marked at specific times by four different fountains, Respighi’s extravagant and opulent orchestration (including piano, organ, two harps, celesta, and bass clarinet) was here made atmospheric and suggestive, and often delicately traced and beautifully clarified without being clinical, Karabits’s lucid conducting drawing an outstanding response from the RPO, whether in the quicksilver reactions needed for ‘Triton Fountain in early morning’ or the solemn if orgiastic grandeur that signals ‘Trevi Fountain at noon’. In the piece’s opening woodwind and horns solos were captivating, and, come sunset, tinkling harps, bells, celesta and glockenspiel were particularly evocative. This was a considered, polished and picturesque orchestral feast.