Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Charities Philharmonia/Young @ St John’s, Smith Square, London

27 February 2009

A concert by the Charities Philharmonia, under Michael Alexander Young, is a promise of fresh air breathed into whatever classic work they’re playing.

On this occasion that is particularly apt, with a performance of perhaps Sibelius’ greatest evocation of the airy northern landscapes of his homeland.

More even than Finlandia, the Second Symphony evokes the water, sky and verdant lushness of Finland’s wide open spaces. In Young’s hands, this was no blast of icy wind; rather than focusing on the cold introspection that can characterise Sibelius’ work, the conductor drew playing that was laced with the heat of the composer’s passion.

The exuberance of this immensely talented group of musicians approached brashness at times but, with an expansiveness matching Sibelius’ heartfelt vision, it was no wonder the audience greeted the heady conclusion with a roar of approval.

There was an elemental feel to the first half too, the opening Egmont overture fair crackling with fire. A staple of CP concerts is a concerto, allowing a young soloist to show us what they’re made of. This time it was Shostakovich’s first Cello Concerto, a work dedicated to the composer’s friend and countryman, Maxim Rostropovich, and here played by Thomas Carroll.

The fiercely repeated theme of the first movement an inversion of the familiar DSCH motif threatens tedium, with each part of the orchestra trying to grab a bit of the action before the timpani succeeds with a definitive full stop. The second movement, one of Shostakovich’s dreamy adagios, drew soulfully intense playing from Carroll, the long cadenza seeming to reach into distant recesses of the composer’s psyche.

Clarity and sharpness characterised Young’s approach throughout and, if this orchestra deserves attention (and much bigger audiences than it got here) it’s not just for their commitment to “outstanding causes” but the extremely high quality of its music-making too.

This concert was the second in a series in association with Dreams Come True, a charity dedicated to making the dreams of terminally ill children become a reality. All artists gave their time free of charge.

The Charities Philharmonia’s next concert will be on 30 May, when the programme will include Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony and Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Alina Ibragimova as soloist.

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