Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists @ Wigmore Hall, London

23 January 2015

8e0dce_soloist425 The Wigmore Hall was the ideal showcase and testing ground for the skills of the young Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists, and it was a pity that they played in front of a small audience, because their performance matched that of any professional outfit. However, this gave the concert the sort of intimacy which matched their well-chosen programme of works from the Baroque and neo-Classical ends of the string orchestra spectrum.

The opening work, Stravinsky’s ‘Basel’ Concerto in D, is a reinterpretation of the Baroque concerto. According to the composer, it was written “like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos”, and its formal construction and technical complexity make it as challenging as anything Bach himself ever wrote. That didn’t seem to put off the Royal Academy of Music soloists. The supportive guidance of director Clio Gould yielded lively playing, particularly during the more rhythmic passages.

Bach’s celebrated Violin Concerto no.1 in A minor was delivered a little faster than usual. Whether this was a deliberate choice of tempo (which is not marked in the score) or youthful zest, was difficult to tell, but it did have the effect of chasing solo violinist Maciej Burdzy. The 14 string players, plus harpsichord, also tended to swamp Burdzy at times. Yet his playing was something very special. His is clearly a talent to watch, with an approach that was both controlled and mature, and intense and dazzlingly virtuosic.

In the second half of the concert Clio Gould was joined by Michael Foyle and Emily Davis for the principal violin parts in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G – a neat piece of programme symmetry, reflecting Stravinsky’s concerto in the first half. Bach’s set of six concertos is so well known that it is difficult to think of anything new to add, but harpsichordist Joe Waggott did have fun extemporising on the single-bar central Adagio.

The main work in the second half was Stravinsky’s ballet score, Apollon musegète (often better known simply as Apollo). This is a sublime work, written in 1928 primarily for a Paris production by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with choreography by George Balanchine. Along with Oedipus Rex and Orpheus, it is one of Stravinsky’s most self-consciously neo-Classical works – poised, elegant and tinged with nostalgia. The ballet is usually played by full string orchestra, and its reduction to just 15 players did thin out the sound. It also exposed the upper strings and, on occasion, the RAM soloists seemed less than sure-footed. It wasn’t until the variations devoted to each of Apollo’s muses that the playing became more secure. The ensuing movements were expertly handled, and the final apotheosis was played with an aching beauty that continued to haunt beyond the final bar.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.

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Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists @ Wigmore Hall, London