BRIGHTON DOME, JANUARY 17th 2015
By Andrew Marc Collins
What a terrific, sterling and captivating debut for conductor Rory MacDonald as he led the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time last Saturday at the Brighton Dome. The concert also saw MacDonald share the stage with the highly acclaimed piano virtuoso Lambis Vassiliadis.
It was the third concert of the London Philharmonic’s 14th season of Brighton Dome concerts (which run from September 2014 to March 2015) with a wonderful programme: Humperdinck’s Prelude, Hansel and Gretel, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Dvo?ák’s Symphony No. 8.
Rory, already with an admirable repertoire to his name at just 34 years old, conducts with authority, gusto and subtle sensitivity in an almost convulsive style. Never too effusive or bombastic, it’s quite infectious to watch. He’d already conducted the first piece, Humperdink’s Prelude to Hansel and Gretel, in 2011 at the Royal Opera Christmas show in London’s Royal Opera House.
It was a delightful opener for the concert – playful, poetic and satisfyingly Wagnerian – a glowing homage to his Tannhauser overture – and, as Rory states, “a great way to start the concert.” Indeed. From the soft horn openings of the ‘Evening Hymn’ (a melody which punctuates throughout) we are transported along on a fairy-tale soundscape.
There are delicious surges in power; thrusts and parries, themes being worked in. Finally, an operatic climax and exciting fanfare which preclude a softer ending to the prelude as the spell fades away. Most enchanting.
Pianist Lambis Vassiliadis then graced the stage for Chopin’s concerto No. 2. His playing has been described as “an explosion of piano art” and he was warmly received by the audience who were clearly looking forward to hearing the world class talent play.
This concerto was very much a showpiece for the young Chopin who endeavoured to dazzle the discerning audiences in Paris with his virtuosity and prolific musical abilities. The emphasis, therefore, is largely on the piano – intricate, complex, sophisticated. Successive themes are presented by the orchestra, then re-ignited by the piano in the first movement. New keys are developed as it continues, the principal theme being reiterated by outstanding piano writing.
Lambis, who plays as though in rapture most of the time, was stunning, deft and astonishingly precise – flowing with the music, dominating the score. A slow movement follows, a Larghetto, with the piano suddenly bursting forth dramatically. String tremolos add poignancy and agitation to these flourishes. Vassiliadis seemed perfectly attuned to the piece, his playing so bright at times it was hard to watch – better to close your eyes and let it surge over you.
The concerto finishes with a nationalistic folk-like finale with violins playing with the wood of the bow, the ending signalled by a horn blast. Very stirring.
Lambis’ solo was quite stupendous; pounding and emphatic, his mastery of the instrument mesmerising. It was also a very warm, friendly performance, notable character traits which became apparent when he happily posed for pictures with audience members when requested in the interval.
The second half of the concert was Dvo?ák’s optimistic and invigorating Symphony No. 8. It is one of Rory MacDonald’s favourite pieces as he is firm admirer of the Czech composers. His contagious enthusiasm was evident on stage.
The symphony is another nationalistic piece which also draws on the composer’s native country’s folk music. The first movement starts seriously with a slow cello melody, brightens up with bird-call flute, then the cello and viola melodies begin. A trumpet section heads the middle of the movement, which is finished with the flute theme on the cor anglais.
The second movement Adagio is yet more sensitive and subtle, meant to evoke the Czech rural landscape. It’s the most downbeat of the symphony.
The scherzo cheers with lilting waltzes, charming melodies and borrows from Dvo?ák’s earlier opera, Tvrdé palice (‘The stubborn Lover’).
Finally, addictive themes and variations end the symphony. The last movement opens with a trumpet fanfare which evolves with somewhat disparate variations and another tune, held together by the main theme. The ending slows to near standstill before a rushing, rousing finale.
With such a precise and practiced orchestra such as the London Philharmonic, expertly headed by leader Pieter Schoeman together with an obviously ebullient Rory MacDonald on the box, this was a glorious showpiece of the concert.
Blistering applause for the ensemble concluded a hugely enjoyable and immersive evening at the Brighton Dome, and continues a very successful season for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The final concert of the LPO at the Brighton Dome concludes on Saturday 28 March 2015 and will be led by former LPO Principal Flute Jaime Martín. It’s another fabulous programme (‘a fantastic evening of musical storytelling’) which features: Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy Overture), Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
Visit: http://brightondome.org/event/5572/london_philharmonic_orchestra_201415/ for more information and to buy tickets.