RPO/Brunelli – 3 Feb

La Traviata – Prelude to Act 3
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
The Barber of Seville – Overture
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550

Louis Demetrius Alvanis (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Fabio Marco Brunelli

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 3 February, 2003
Venue: St. John’s, Smith Square, London

Fabio Marco Brunelli was making his London debut, conducting a much-reduced RPO. His biography in the programme made much of his experience in multimedia events and stated that “he has become an expert in the production and editing of music videos”. Whilst this may well be the case, it is disappointing to have to report he did not demonstrate any particular affinity for the composers whose music was being performed on this occasion. His podium manner, with flamboyant movements and facial grimaces, must have proven a distraction to the players but it is to their credit that some eloquent playing was to be heard – especially the woodwind and the principal clarinet in particular.

The Verdi prelude – that most haunting introduction to the last act of La Traviata – suffered most from the lack of numbers amongst the strings. The violins were thin in tone and lacking in moulded and expressive phrasing. By virtually ignoring the lower strings on the right of the platform, Brunelli failed to create a cohesive sense of ensemble, and by any account this was a curious and unsatisfying start to the programme.

London-born Louis Demetrius Alvanis was an authoritative soloist in the Beethoven and his was an interpretation to admire, even if one couldn’t help wondering how much better it would have been with a more sympathetic and integrated accompaniment. In the first movement, passagework was played brilliantly and the more reflective moments had the requisite intimate character. Alvanis really came into his own, however, when free from orchestral constraint, he was able to deliver a convincing performance of the sometimes barnstorming music Beethoven wrote for his third (and longest) cadenza. A gentler approach all round was needed in the second movement, but there were some lovely exchanges between piano and clarinet and Alvanis launched the Finale with considerable gusto. But a firmer hand was required with some of the orchestral passages, which started to sound oddly episodic. Alvanis is clearly a pianist of integrity and considerable technical prowess and I will welcome an opportunity of hearing him under more favourable conditions.

Rossini’s music has a considerable degree of elegance and refinement – as well as excitement – but these qualities were set aside by Brunelli in a performance of The Barber of Seville overture which was, frankly, crude and not helped by the inclusion of spurious bass drum and cymbal parts which have long been known as inauthentic and which contributed to turning the RPO into a none-too-subtle Italian ’banda’. Even the famous ’Rossini crescendo’ effect lacked impact by simply starting too loud.

As for Mozart’s poignant penultimate symphony, the tempi throughout were very fast, with the outer movements sounding particularly rushed, and hence little opportunity for the subtleties of the harmonic and melodic writing to made their expressive points. This is not the sort of work to be greeted with the loud ’bravos’ which were provided by an enthusiastic member of this audience, but Brunelli’s hell-for-leather approach inevitably invited such a response.

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