Classical blockbusters from the Belgian Nationwide Orchestra in Cardiff – Seen and Heard Worldwide

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United Kingdom Respighi, Mozart, Saint-Saëns: Paul Lewis (piano), Belgian Nationwide Orchestra / Robert González-Monjas (conductor). St David’s Corridor, Cardiff, 9.11.2022. (PCG)

Paul Lewis

RespighiPrelude, corale e fuga, P.30
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Saint-Saëns – Symphony No.3 in C minor Op.78 ‘Organ Symphony’

Since its surprising look within the pop charts in 1977, and in a while the soundtrack of the movie Babe, Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony has comprehensively outstripped in fame all his different items, besides the perennially widespread Danse macabre and Carnival of the Animals. (It had beforehand been typically considered a monstrously overblown work solely to be carried out on particular events.) This obvious recognition apart, any efficiency stays one thing of a particular occasion, for the reason that featured roles for organ and piano duet imply that it doesn’t slot simply into a regular live performance format. And its repute as an orchestral showpiece conceals a really rigorously thought-about and fairly revolutionary development. Saint-Saëns took as a elementary formal foundation the Lisztian concept of symphonic metamorphosis; the symphony is certainly devoted to the reminiscence of Liszt. The entire of the large construction is derived from a single cell of a theme which progressively transforms itself into an entire sequence of large variations. That features not solely the tune which has established the work in widespread tradition but in addition, within the gradual motion the place the organ is first quietly launched, probably the most stunning of the melodies that even Saint-Saëns ever wrote.

What was outstanding about this efficiency of the symphony by the Belgian Nationwide Orchestra beneath their principal visitor conductor Robert González-Monjas was not a lot the sheer spectacle of the finale; that ought to be taken as a right in any however probably the most depressing of the performances. It was the way during which the construction of the entire was so splendidly realised. The entry of the organ initially of the finale didn’t come a lot as a shock however because the end result of a graduated realisation of the fabric, the place climaxes had been amassed reasonably than merely delivered. The efficiency additionally drew parallels with later unacknowledged imitators: the way during which the primary theme of the finale regularly emerged from the top of the scherzo – Sibelius in his Second Symphony written lower than a decade later – or the very distinctive supply of that theme by massed violins in octaves over a background of rippling piano arpeggios which anticipates the gradual central part within the first of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. The latter instance additionally demonstrated the excellent stability achieved by the energetic González-Monjas. The melody was not obscured by the underpinning chords from the organ whereas it concurrently allowed the piano textures to proceed to be heard. The floating woodwind phrases had been securely delivered and heard above the seething developmental textures, and the deeply sonorous strings within the gradual motion additionally had a full weight of plangent heat.

The live performance had opened with a equally spectacular instance of orchestral writing, this time the rather more obscure Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, an early piece by Respighi. Regardless of its Bachian title and its origin as a commencement train, this was very removed from being a severely formal demonstration of the composer’s technical experience. The chorale theme itself, with its wistful echo of the duet from the final act of Puccini’s La bohème, was sufficiently distinctive to behave as a agency foundation each to the impressionistically atmospheric prelude and the very chaotic fugue which adopted and overwhelmed it. I describe the fugue as chaotic, due to its very fast descent, after a couple of conventional opening entries, right into a freely evolving net of counterpoint. It sometimes appeared to remember that it was presupposed to be a fugue in any case, solely to relapse into its naughty methods after a quick semblance of rectitude. This was all nice enjoyable, not certainly with out a sense of humour. The orchestral scoring demonstrated Respighi’s excellent craftsmanship at that stage of his profession (though even then he had already been learning with that different orchestral grasp, Rimsky-Korsakov). As an nearly unknown work starting a live performance, its look on the programme may need been considered a threat; nevertheless it was one which paid off, evoking cheers from an viewers recent from the skin darkness on a moist and moist night time.

Between these two orchestral showpieces, Mozart’s piano concerto may need appeared nearly a light-weight trifle, however that might have been to reckon with out the thought-about efficiency of Paul Lewis. He averted any impression that the glowing piano figurations could possibly be considered trivial, lending weight even to the opening quavers of the rondo theme within the finale. This was certainly an unfashionably romantic view of the music, however the rating is in any case a product of Mozart’s later years when emotional issues had been colouring his harmonic palette. Mozart himself furnished no cadenza for the work, however that offered right here by the soloist was suitably considerate, together with some fairly surprising sideslips into extra distant keys. Once more the woodwinds distinguished themselves, Mozart’s single flute neatly dovetailed with the pair of oboes.

For the encore after the symphony, González-Monjas marched onto the rostrum, raised his baton and delivered the second of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. An odd selection because it was not a piece that had any apparent affiliation both with the orchestra (one may need welcomed some Belgian music) or the rest of the programme.

The viewers cheered the Saint-Saëns symphony to the rafters, as certainly they need to have executed. It was additionally pleasing to notice, after the measly attendance finally week’s live performance, that the variety of seats crammed was significantly improved. Depressing climate, it appears, has much less of an opposed impact on Cardiff audiences than industrial motion on public transport. This was the penultimate live performance is the orchestra’s eight-night UK tour; the identical programme had beforehand been heard in London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham. Gregor Tassie has already printed a overview (click on right here) of the Edinburgh occasion. I’d endorse his complimentary feedback on the standard of the person enjoying on this fabulous orchestra.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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