Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.107 (Reformation)
Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor) & Brindley Sherratt (bass)
Nicholas Angelich (piano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 31 July, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
BBC Proms is exploring Stravinsky’s complete ballet music this season and found an ideal match in Pulcinella and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The music positively danced with crisp textures and lively tempos, an impressive definition achieved even in an acoustic as unsympathetic as the Royal Albert Hall.
With the required handful of strings, Nézet-Séguin focussed on the counterpoint achieved by the composer in his elaboration of Pergolesi and other Italian baroque music. He was helped by well-defined solos from the woodwind, in particular oboist Rosie Staniforth’s beautifully floated ‘Serenata’ theme. While it took the ear a while to adjust to the lean orchestral sound, the soloists adapted quickly, the confident lower range of Karen Cargill especially notable. Together the three singers were extremely well balanced, and the closing number was a delight, capping a sparkling performance.
Schumann’s Piano Concerto was more problematic, with Nicholas Angelich adopting a fussy approach laced with rubato. His disjointed melodic phrasing was expressive, but often included a slight pause halfway through each melodic line. While his affection for the music was clear, his approach became rather wearing, removing a lot of the music’s instinctive drive. Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra were attentive in accompaniment, and the second movement fared better, with its central cello theme beautifully projected by David Watkin and his colleagues. Angelich let himself enjoy a more playful approach here, though similar phrasing issues beset the finale.
There followed a powerful performance of Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation’ Symphony. While the introduction was a quick Andante, this heightened the impact of the strings’ “Dresden Amen”. Devoid of vibrato, this resonated with its stillness. Nézet-Séguin found real vigour in his conducting of the stormy Allegro and vivacious scherzo that followed, the sunny trills of its accompanying trio beautifully realised. Once again the woodwind were superb, adding an edge to the Sturm und Drang passages and securing a real sense of triumph through adversity with the quotation of the Lutheran chorale “Ein’ Feste Burg”, from where Nézet-Séguin drove the music to a triumphant conclusion. It was fitting not to have an encore.