Coriolan – Overture, Op.62
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Tasmin Little (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: 19 September, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Grzegorz Nowak is in his early 50s with a shock of hair in the Boris Johnson style. He has much conducting experience but seems not to have found a home with a major orchestra.
When the Royal Philharmonic launched into the overture, I was taken aback to find that the acclaimed acoustic of Cadogan Hall seems so inappropriate for orchestral music, having limited bass, little reverberation, and an unhelpful emphasis on the upper midrange; the horns were too loud, the timpani had an unpleasant clattering quality and the bassoons and double basses were almost inaudible. Nowak directed an urgent, dramatic rendition of “Coriolan”, but the acoustic gave Beethoven’s music a harsh, strident quality.
Bruch’s First Violin Concerto unfolded pleasantly, but Nowak’s very physical and emphatic conducting style begged the question as to how much musical rapport a conductor, soloist and orchestra can be built during such a brief appearance. Tasmin Little rarely looked at Nowak, and although her timing and playing was impeccable, it was almost as if they were playing two different performances in terms of emotional engagement. Only midway during the Adagio did the music start to come to life, although the blaring tutti at the end of the movement rather spoilt the mood.
Nowak gave a straightforward interpretation of Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony, including the exposition repeat in the first movement and keeping a steady pulse within movements. Although the programme included a note from the conductor citing a personal connection with the work, the performance didn’t have much fire or romance, and even the exquisite melody of the Adagio was somewhat plain-spun.
Nowak conducted all three works without the use of a score and the playing of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was accurate and committed. But, from my perspective, the professionalism of the musicians was marred somewhat by the lack of sparkle in the music-making and the deeply unflattering acoustic.