Review: Shostakovich Cello Concerto / Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances / LPO / István Várdai / Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Trying out a new way of review concerts. Helpful sub-headings. Less wordy (I hope). Tonight’s LPO concert with cellist István Várdai conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada seems like a good opportunity. Helpful? Let me know in the comments below.

Shostakovich Cello Concerto

A valiant but sometimes laboured performance featuring unsettling shifts in tonal and textural quality, paired with a sometimes overpowering orchestra.

In the first movement cellist István Várdai produced a chillingly raspish tone from the instrument that fitted the dark spikey quality of the music. The sticky legato sequences felt indulgent and unearned, hinting an earnest style that unwittingly overlooked the cohesiveness of the whole work.

We were closer to the heart of the work and the player during the third movement cadenza. But the tautness expected from the opening of the fourth movement wasn’t forthcoming.

I wanted this to be electric. Pleasing as it was, it felt like we got a coal fire instead.

Peteris Vasks / Dona Nobis Pacem

This performance was the star of the show. Vasks’ choral writing is deft and demands further exploration. The Latvian composer denied a place at Riga’s Conservatoire of music in 1983 celebrates the voice, but instinctively avoids self-indulgence. Dona Nobis Pacem is a heartfelt plea – Very honest writing.

The London Philharmonic Choir achieved emotionally what Várdai struggled to reach – provoking a raw, unequivocal and lasting emotional reaction in the listener that was as unexpected as it was needed. There were a few shaky entries, but the fortissimo ensemble was stunning and the articulation gratifyingly precise.

Rachmaninov / Symphonic Dances

The inclusion of the Dies Irae Gregorian chant sung by the Lay Vicars of Westminster Abbey before the Rachmaninov is an interesting playlist-inspired element in concert programmes – a sort of mini-overture that focuses attention at the start of the second half. Here, the Dies Irae lilting reprise wasn’t terrifying as convention would lead us to assume it is, but more hypnotic and reassuring.

The segue from Dies Irae into Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances didn’t quite work – more of an audience issue than a platform issue. No matter, the juxtaposition made sense. The intent was sound.

The woodwind blossomed with the subject in the opening movement even if the opening pulsating growls didn’t quite have the impetus I was looking for. This was where principal guest conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada thrived, coaxing some tantalising textures from the string section. Still, I wanted more bristle.

The band seemed sluggish responding to some of the changes of tempi towards the end of the second movement. That said, it was a spirited and dark waltz, just as the music insists.

In the final movement we heard the kind of dry articulation in the strings we could have done with in the Shostakovich (a note for the conductor rather than a criticism of the band, by the way). Kudos to Orozco-Estrada for keeping us on tenterhooks with the final note from the gong.

Sleb Attendance

Good to see Prime Minster Theresa May in attendance at the LPO concert this evening. I felt oddly reassured. How could an avid concert-goer also responsible for navigating us through The Clusterfuck not at least have an eye out for the sector that delivers the art form she enjoys?

I didn’t see her in the bar during the interval. Disappointing. At a private function I should imagine. I wasn’t invited – probably wise. Still, I felt reassured when I observed the editor of another classical music website was in the bar too.

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