Oberon – Overture
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Chloë Hanslip (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Gill Redfern
Reviewed: 6 November, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Given the proliferation of other tempting musical treats available to London concert-goers, the barely half-full house at Cadogan Hall was perhaps not entirely surprising. However, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing under the renowned Leonard Slatkin, showed no signs in its performance of taking this to heart.
“Oberon” (composed in 1826) was Weber’s last work. Entirely fulfilling the ‘job description’ of an overture, this work presents the opera’s musical highlights admirably. In performance, as well as producing some confident and well-centred wind solos, the RPO’s ensemble was notably tight, the string players creating a full and beautifully blended sound. This made it all the more regrettable that their efforts were sometimes casualties of the Cadogan Hall acoustic, drowned out by slightly over-enthusiastic (and not always accurate) lower brass.
Chloë Hanslip, at 20 years old, has already made a considerable name for herself, both in concerts and as a recording artist, and her persuasive rendition of Prokofiev’s technically demanding First Concerto was due in no small part to her ability to perform from memory and to her impressive visual and musical communication with Slatkin and the orchestra.
Coaxing an impressive range of dynamics, colours and depth of tone from her instrument, Hanslip totally engaged with the music from the outset. Her full vibrato complimented perfectly the work’s more lyrical sections, though, like so many other performances of this piece, some of Prokofiev’s more gymnastic writing came across as somewhat overly aggressive. There were also a couple of moments when she didn’t seem totally comfortable with the orchestral pace, but these quickly passed and it was a credit to her that she seemed willing (and able) to treat the performance as a partnership rather than a duel.
The Brahms was the highlight of the evening. It is well-documented that Brahms struggled for many years with his first foray into ‘the symphony’, fearing comparisons with the towering figure of Beethoven. What eventually emerged was well worth the wait, and stands now as one of symphonic form’s most important examples.
Like most orchestras the RPO must have tackled Brahms 1 hundreds of times, but there was no discernible hint of world-weariness from the players.
The acoustic of Cadogan Hall revealed Brahms’s masterly grasp of orchestration: every melodic line penetrated often-dense textures, and was supported by spot-on tuning, crisp string articulation and rhythmically taut wind syncopation by which you could have set your watch.
Slatkin conducted an almost-textbook performance, from memory, shaping and encouraging with minimal gestures an entirely natural musical flow. From a gloriously solid opening movement, the orchestra moved effortlessly through the undulating Andante sostenuto and a shapely and ebullient intermezzo-like third. The slow introduction to the finale was, perhaps, the least successful element of the performance, though the solo horn and the rich, deep string sound (aided by the judicious use of several double bass C extensions) were more than adequate consolidation for this slight dip in focus. There was a resounding conclusion to a very worthwhile evening.