Verbier 2017: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 / Ein Heldenleben / Verbier Festival Orchestra / Yefim Bronfman / Antonio Pappano

The VFO’s penultimate outing at the Verbier Festival with Antonio Pappano concluded in blistering fashion with a comprehensive performance of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

The performance of Brahms’ second piano concerto in the first-half wasn’t without fault however, with intonation issues during exposed sequences highlighting one of the challenges in the composer’s epic 50 minute work.

Even when the band didn’t quite meet the challenge head on, the spine still tingled. The cello solo at the beginning of the third movement was divine, so too the exchange between piano and (albeit slightly flat) woodwind at the height of the Andante.  That the final chord of the third movement corrected itself reassures me that the technical issues were more to do with atmospherics than a lack of ability.

Pappano had been meticulous in coaching a seductive warmth from his considerable string section throughout the work too. The strings undoubtedly shone.

Ein Heldenleben was the anticipated highlight. The VFO delivered. The solo violinist approached the part with enviable attention to detail and undeniable passion for his art.

The off-stage brass were jaw-droppingly good and deserved far more of a cheer than they actually received at the end of the performance.

Strings were a little skiddy on some of the top notes, and from time to time there were some beats were anticipated more than required. But, like the Brahms, any technical errors were overshadowed by towering musicality both in the players and conductor.

Watch the Verbier Festival Orchestra with Antonio Pappano and Yefim Bronfman on Medici.TV free  

Pictures: Aline Paley / Verbier Festival 2017



Prom 49: National Youth Orchestra / Antonio Pappano

Watching an NYO concert is always a difficult affair for me. I’m nearly always reminded of my failed attempts at gaining entry to the band when I was a teenager. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get in. I didn’t even get an audition. (I wasn’t terribly good at my ‘tonguing’ and sometimes my intonation did leave a lot to be desired.) Even so, watching each successive NYO does tend to fill me with bitterness and resetment. I’m nothing if not predictable.

I caught the first work in this evening’s concert – Varese’s Amériques – on the live Radio 3 relay and wasn’t entirely convinced about it. Contrary to what I’ve thought for many years, I don’t think you need to know very much about a composer or the work itself in order to enjoy it. You’ll just enjoy it if it’s good. Varese’s creation didn’t appeal to me and watching the TV broadcast later in the evening did little to change my opinion.

Had I been lucky enough to pull the wool over the eyes of the NYO administration and end up playing in the orchestra when I was seventeen, I think I probably would have been hugely annoyed to discover I was playing Rachmaninov’s fourth piano concerto. As a listener coming to the work for the first time, I failed to identify one single discernible theme to latch on to. Sure, BBC 2 commentator Charles Hazlewood might have suggested the concerto was a jamming session between piano soloist and orchestra, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a definite theme, an obvious development and a subsequent recapitulation. There’s a reason we only really hear Rachmaninov’s second symphony and his Paganini Variations. I suspect they’re the best of his orchestral works.

To focus on largely negative and personal views of two thirds of hte programme does the members of this year’s NYO a massive disservice. Tonight was their big night: a televised demonstration of their obvious talent and expertise. I’d always liked the idea of being a member of that particular crowd even if my ambitions were delusions of grandeur. Nevertheless, the end of the Copland Symphony showed how much this event touched the members of the orchestra. I’m sure I observed a number of bottom lips quivering and hands wiping tears from cheeks.

I know, it might be mawkish to flag such an observation up, but its those things which prove that what happened in the Royal Albert Hall was a moving experience for those there. I wouldn’t deny anyone that kind of experience. Good on them.

Prom 49 on the BBC iPlayer