Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Rory Macdonald – Tallis Fantasia, The Walk to the Paradise Garden, Sibelius 5 – Natasha Paremski & Mike Allen play Shostakovich

Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Op.35
A Village Romeo and Juliet – The Walk to the Paradise Garden
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Natasha Paremski (piano) & Mike Allen (trumpet)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Rory Macdonald

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 29 November, 2012
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Rory Macdonald. ©Marco BorggreveThis programme was reminiscent of those played fifty years or more ago. Today we seem obsessed with concepts so the variety of musical styles at this invigorating concert came as a tonic.

The last time I heard the wonderful Tallis Fantasia was at Cadogan Hall played by the strings of the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, a luminous sound indeed. The strings of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra produced richer timbres that occasionally became a little congested but Rory Macdonald, a Mark Elder protégé and a former assistant at the Hallé, drew wonderfully quiet playing; the opening was perfect in allowing us entry into the mysterious world of a post-Tudor era of modernism in English music.

Shostakovich would not want us to dwell on the overt qualities of his ‘piano concerto’. Written in 1933 this bizarre work is a prelude to the even stranger but infinitely more interesting Fourth Symphony of a year later. Both soloists have the opportunity to shine in some amazing technical demands. The piano is kept busy throughout. Natasha Paremski possesses all the technique and temperament to do full justice to those demands. If the trumpet of Mike Allen was much less in evidence, almost an obbligato role, the finale allowed him to show off his stamina and style in fine fashion. I worried about the pianist’s high heels though!

After the interval, the platform was crowded for Delius’s much-loved opera entr’acte. This is no criticism of the players’ artistry, which is without question, but the sound of this work reminded me of the worst excesses of Decca Phase 4 LPs. Everything seemed highlighted, over-lit and overloud, due to Cadogan Hall’s constricted aura for such large-orchestra pieces. It was unfortunate because Macdonald drew much feeling from the RPO musicians and paced the music to perfection.

He also rose to the occasion in Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. This composer’s unique, post-Romantic orchestration sounded much clearer than that from Delius in this venue. Possessing the greatest tune in all 20th-century music, the finale’s wonderful ‘Swan Hymn’ witnessed the growth of a mighty oak from the smallest of acorns. Macdonald perhaps missed some of the subtler details in the score and could have requested quieter playing at times but the sweep and grasp of the big picture was achieved, magnificently!

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