Strings of the London Philharmonic at Wigmore Hall

Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Op.35a
Violin Concerto in D minor
Souvenir de Florence Op.70

Strings of the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Boris Garlitsky (violin & director)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 20 December, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Anton Stepanovich Arensky (1861-1906)A nicely linked concert presenting Tchaikovsky in the context of one of his primary influences, Mendelssohn, and a ‘disciple’, Arensky, who composed his Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky as a tribute the year after the composer’s death. Boris Garlitsky ensured these attractive works were presented with both a smile and a sense of purpose, the London Philharmonic string-players working hard but clearly enjoying the music.

This was most obvious in Souvenir de Florence – originally for string sextet – here finding an ideal balance through the 17 performers on the platform. Garlitsky led a performance typified by brisk tempos, lively dance rhythms in the faster music and faultless technical command, particularly from the violins. One possible bone of contention was the amount of vibrato he and lead cellist Kristina Blaumane applied to their dialogue in the slow movement and rather rich in its execution.

However this issue paled among the many good things in this performance – such as the vibrant scherzo and the fugue that surged forward at the end of the finale with considerable momentum and which only stopped for the noble major-key theme.

Arensky’s set of seven Variations on the melody of one of Tchaikovsky’s Songs for Children provided an effective companion piece as the concert opener, the baleful theme given appropriate chant-like solemnity. Garlitsky opted to pause after each pair of variations, which helped place each in context and elevate the final one, containing the moving Orthodox Chant. Before then the pizzicato of the fourth Variation was spiky and the fast-against-slow of the second created a strong forward pulse.

Mendelssohn’s posthumously published Violin Concerto (one not to be confused with his evergreen one in E minor) was written when the composer was just into his teenage years. It has elements of Baroque music in its virtuosic solo part, brilliantly played by Garlitsky, who elected to play along with the tuttis. The cadenzas were superbly executed, stand-in leader Vesselin Gellev completely alive to possibilities of rubato.

When the music was quieter Garlitsky responded well to the scale of the performance and the hall’s dynamic, so that his pianissimo playing could just be heard in the softer parts of the slow movement. Mendelssohn’s precocious invention was shown to be just that, in a performance that fizzed with energy.

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