Mendelssohn … (S)irató … Romeo and Juliet

Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.11
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 [Revised Version]
(S)irató [UK premiere]
Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections]

Isabelle Faust (violin)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Thierry Fischer
Jonathan Mann [assistant conductor: Holliger]

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 4 August, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Thierry Fischer gave the first movement of Mendelssohn’s First Symphony power and passion and followed it with a flowing Andante. The original Minuet followed (at the London performance in May 1829 Mendelssohn substituted the scherzo from his Octet, orchestrated), and the finale was not quite as propulsive as the opening movement, Fischer’s lithe and loving performance inspiring his players.

Isabelle Faust. Photograph: Felix BroedePerhaps after such passionate persuasion in the Symphony, it was not surprising that the accompaniment to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto was at a distinctly lower temperature, although partly that must have been due to Fischer’s desire not to overwhelm Isabelle Faust. With a fiery technique matching the red of her dress, Faust negotiated the demands Mendelssohn had set his friend Ferdinand David with admirable ease, remaking afresh the music of this evergreen.

From Mendelssohn’s geniality to something with more spite and anger to open the second half: Heinz Hollinger’s 1993 (S)irató, composed in memory of his teacher Sándor Veress, for whom Holliger (and Paul Sacher) had helped to end a near 20-year campaign to get Veress Swiss nationality (eventually coming through in 1992, just two months before Veress’s death aged 85).

Thierry Fischer. Photograph: LephotoDescribed as a “monody for large orchestra” the title of the work combines the Italian marking irato for “enraged” and the Hungarian Sirató, meaning “lament” or “funeral dirge”. The piece begins from musical buzzings, starting deep in the bass instruments (including contrabass clarinet), only very slowly rising in pitch. There was even a cimbalom, with its distinctive clatter. The music’s slow, unerring trajectory was moulded by baton-less Fischer’s flat hands with – later on – the help of second conductor Jonathan Mann. Rarely has a title so aptly described a piece of music, the anger of Veress’s 20-year battle against Swiss bureaucracy (and, according to the programme, Swiss academic jealousy) let alone the sad loss of an important mentor.

While feeling a chance might have been missed, given the presence of the cimbalom, that the final work could have been the Suite from Háry János”, Kodály’s opera, there were five movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Almost following the chronology, the short collection from all three suites started with ‘Montagues and Capulets’. The ball where Romeo first spies Juliet was represented by ‘Dance’ followed by ‘Romeo and Juliet before Parting’. The fatal drama of ‘The Death of Tybalt’ was contrasted by ‘The Death of Juliet’ from the near end of the ballet. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales was confidently responsive to Prokofiev’s palette of moods and timbres (saxophone included) and Fischer’s direction, now back with a baton.

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