Opera + Classical Music Reviews

English Chamber Orchestra @ Cadogan Hall, London

23 May 2007

Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 for two pianos is performed comparatively infrequently, and it was given an outing at the Cadogan Hall on Wednesday evening.

The work itself is by no means the composer’s finest, but the outer movements are pleasingly virtuosic and the whole is melodious and intelligently structured.

And the not-identical-but-pretty-similar twins Guher and Suher Pekinel were decent exponents.

The two women deliberately play avoiding eye contact, yet the intimate and intense musical conversation between the two was palpable throughout. There was something miraculous about watching the two pianists caught up in each other’s sound: the delicacy, the refinement and the integrity of the entwining lines was something to behold.

But the drama was not so successfully conveyed. The Rondeau did pick up the pace a little, but the opening Allegro lacked bite. Yes, the musical conversation between players was spot on, but amid the gorgeous textures I longed for a more visceral approach. In the outer movements, both instruments provide daringly elaborated melodic fragments and dazzling runs, yet the frequent Frisbee-throwing antiphonies between players require a more arrogant, even self indulgent approach. Here, the virtuosity seemed muted.

Mozart’s 33rd Symphony suffered a similar problem. Colin Davis led the English Chamber Orchestra through a technically proficient reading (barring a couple of tentative violin entries), but crescendi seemed understated and climaxes struggled to make much impression. Perhaps predictably, the most successful movement was the Andante moderato, where languid, legato violin lines melded with a walking bass heartbeat to create the most gorgeously airy, light-as-a-feather textures.

Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes was an odd experience. Though originally not written as a ballet (it was choreographed two years after its premiere by none other than George Balanchine), the work seems designed for use in the theatre. The neo-classical motifs carry much momentum and the scoring is inspired, but the ideas are often fragmentary and the veers of pace and style discombobulating. The orchestra played cleanly (and the superb solo flautist brought a Debussian richness to his every line), but the whole lacked spark.

Much better was Bach’s Concerto for keyboards and strings: the twins were back, and now powering through the composer’s every contrapuntal complexity with the most secure technique and awe-inspiring understanding of the music. It was the highlight of the evening.

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