St John’s Notting Hill – Fidelio Overture, Mozart K364 with Orpheus Papafilippou & Yuri Zhislin, Luke Cleghorn conducts Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony

Beethoven
Fidelio, Op.72 – Overture
Mozart
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K364
Beethoven
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Orpheus Papafilippou (violin) & Yuri Zhislin (viola)

Patrick Noronha Orchestra
Music of the Spheres Ensemble
Patrick Noronha [Fidelio]
Luke Cleghorn


Reviewed by: Jens Fredriksen

Reviewed: 23 October, 2015
Venue: St John’s Church, Notting Hill, West London

St John's Notting HillSt John’s Church Notting Hill hosts regular Thursday concerts as well as others (to say nothing of tea dances and musical events for children). This concert used a combination of two orchestras with which Orpheus Papafilippou is involved. Although rather low on string strength, these are skilled players. The evening opened with Patrick Noronha conducting the (final) Overture to Beethoven’s Fidelio – it seems that the acoustics took a little getting-used-to and perhaps explains the less than perfect ensemble initially. The sturdy Allegro lacked light and shade and this resulted in a general impression of constant mezzo-forte although the phrasing built nicely towards the final climax in which the important timpani part emerged clearly despite the player being situated somewhat distantly.

The lightly-scored Mozart displayed better detail and Luke Cleghorn was very much at-one with the soloists. I admire Papafilippou’s straightforward and unsentimental style and he used a little more vibrato than when he plays Bach and Vivaldi, which in St John’s helped project both soloists’ tone, Yuri Zhislin’s vibrato being of an identical nature. I liked the tendency of both players to join in tutti passages. This was direct Mozart but with a relaxed tempo for the slow movement which gave rise to unhurried and elegant answering phrases. The Finale was ideally paced and notably lively. This was not an intimate rendition; the copious resonance would not permit such a thing. The only downside was the selfish outbreak of clapping from some of the audience between movements: programmes should always include a sentence advising people not to applaud until the end of a work.

Orpheus PapafilippouPhotograph: www.orpheusviolinist.comWe were given two spoken introductions to Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’. The first was a clearly-phrased description by Robert Matthew-Walker which firmly described the contours of the Symphony. Details were pointed out such as the previously unheard-of use of three horns – and there was an interesting reference to Beethoven being profoundly deaf by 1817. The metronome markings for Beethoven’s first eight Symphonies were first published in December 1817 and it has often been suggested that they are unreliable – Beethoven could no longer hear his music at this time so could there be some connection? The talk was followed by a description by Cleghorn of the circumstances surrounding the composition of the ‘Eroica’ and the famous story about Beethoven furiously destroying his dedication to Napoleon and we were told of the composer’s antipathy towards aristocracy. I noticed that an English Lord happened to be sitting in the audience.

Fortunately, apart from a slight momentary ‘patter’, the ‘Eroica’ was not plagued by the pompous interrupting clappers and didn’t interfere with an outstanding interpretation. Cleghorn’s technique is precise and he achieved exact ensemble. In this venue, the resultant big sound was pleasing to the ear and to some extent compensated for the modest personnel.

Cleghorn took generally swift tempos though not necessarily as speedy as the metronome markings indicate. His was a particularly majestic reading of the second-movement ‘Funeral March’ and the firm, unhurried tread of the great fugal passage underlined the music’s seriousness. Much was revealed in this account and often the simple observation of what is in the score was in itself revelatory – none of that habitual slowing to accommodate the second subject of the first movement and Cleghorn moved into the exposition repeat with impatient force – no ‘traditional’ bending of phrases to draw attention to this interesting return to the home key.

The long lead-up to the start of the recapitulation was driven unrelentingly rather than employing the long, cumbersome accelerando that so many interpreters foist upon it. The question will always be asked as to whether unwritten brass has been allowed to supplement the woodwind melody in the coda. Well the melody was clear enough but the resonance was so great that I confess that I could not be sure whether or not there was a brass addition. The very rapid Scherzo was convincing and excellent horns surged brilliantly into the demanding Trio. Drive was also sustained throughout the Finale which included excellent playing from the flautist. The tempo adopted for the Poco andante was ideal – fast enough to sustain the impulse, broad enough to be majestic. The Presto coda was exciting without resort to haste.

This concert featured some fine musicianship, and Luke Cleghorn gave a notable interpretation of the ‘Eroica’.

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