Lausanne Chamber Orchestra

Serenade for Strings in E, Op.22
Slavonic Dance in E minor, Op.72/2
Legend in G minor, Op.59/3
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21

Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Christian Zacharias (piano)

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 25 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

It’s an unwise man that thinks the only cultural product of Switzerland is the cuckoo clock. While perhaps a little bereft of composers (claim half a point if you said Honegger, and he moved to France!), Geneva was the Swiss home of Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra, and Switzerland became the adopted domicile and often refuge for many great musicians of the twentieth century, in no small part due to Paul Sacher.

The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra comes from the French-speaking southern part of Switzerland, the orchestra’s debut Prom being greeted in the promenaders’ best French. The orchestra applauded back, wrapped with smiles and Elisabeth Weber, the orchestra’s leader, beamed pure delight back.

Dvořák’s Serenade dates from an eleven-day period of creativity in May 1875 and epitomises the composer’s change in direction towards more orthodox forms and simpler melodic writing which was to bring him fame and success in future years; it is chamber music in every sense of the words and at its best when played as such. Christian Zacharias allowed the musicians to make music unfettered. He is not a demonstrative conductor; Zacharias, like the members of the orchestra, is a performing artist and, as such, commands respect from the individual players.

As a rule, European strings are noticeably warm, and this is certainly true of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra; perhaps it’s something that they put in the water over there, after all Evian is just up the road from Lausanne. Zacharias’s attention to detail was exemplary: he is lucid and gives clear cues, which leads to a happy and confident orchestra. One criticism, though, might be his inconsistent tempos. The main victim to this was the Schumann, which ebbed and flowed so much that all shape was lost. This concerto is essentially a product of the classical period, so when Zacharias did hold the tempo, all was well.

The Chopin, by contrast, demands every phrase to breathe; Zacharias, together with the LCO, did not disappoint. Often when the soloist directs a greater cohesion between the players is formed. Here the artistic symmetry was ideal and real musical interaction was heard. The effect was magnificent.

After such artistry any further piece might have been an anticlimax. One wonders what the thoughts were behind the programming of two, reasonably slow, pieces of Dvořák as a suitable close. They did reveal how piano pieces (duets in this case) in orchestral arrangements may be seen through the eyes of a pianist. Writing as someone who has hacked though piano duets, I find that I am able to look at orchestral scores with greater clarity having played the piano version. So it was with Zacharias who, once again, took his magnifying glass to the sensual waltz of the E minor Slavonic Dance, rubato once more the order of the day, Zacharias interpreting the music as he would at the keyboard.

Zacharias left the stage almost apologetically saying he had no time to play more; a shame, but this was certainly a very pleasing concert.

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 8 September at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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