Concert Reviews

'Glorious Spirit' - 2nd May 2010 - Milton Keynes Theatre

The Milton Keynes City Orchestra, conducted by Sian Edwards, gave a well-received performance of music from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with an added bon-bon from the beginning of the 20th.

The concert started with Beethoven's overture to the drama Egmont. The opening chords were suitably portentous, but the main body of the overture was breathtakingly fluent. The added desks of first and second violins, as well as four strong bass players, made an immediate difference to the sound of the theatre. Am i imagining things, or was the orchestra just a little more forward, as well? Whatever, the sound was terrific from the outset.

Mozart's lovely bassoon concerto was performed, very correctly, with a reduced orchestra behind the inevitably restricted dynamic range of the solo instrument. John Whitfield got off to a slightly shaky start, but soon settled down. He produces a most ingratiatingly lovely tone and his effortless flexibility was engaging. I would have liked a little more adventure in the cadenzas, which were little more than straight cadences, but otherwise this was an idiomatic performance from all concerned.

The second Mozart work was the delightful Serenata notturna, a long-time favorite of mine. Again, this was idiomatically played, with a fine contribution from the quartet of solo string players. The trio of the minuet was a little gem. Sian handled the tongue-in-cheek stop-starts of the finale with great skill and there was no feeling of discontinuity.

The added bon-bon was Elgar's Romance for Bassoon. I have heard this many times with piano accompaniment but never before in its orchestrated version. Considering the size of the orchestra, and the limited dynamic range of the bassoon, this was a masterpiece of skilful orchestration, and careful conducting. John Whitfield gave a delightful performance of this little gem.

The main work in the concert - the undoubted Fleischgerichte - was Schumann's Rhenish symphony. Under a previous generation of conductors - Karajan, Klemperer, Furtwangler and so on - Schumann came to be seen as a sort of lesser Brahms. His orchestrations were thick and muddy, his melodic development naive, his structural architecture fallible, so it was said. The newer generation of conductors, especially those who have happily acknowledged the 'authentic' movement in performances of 19th century works, have polished up the music of the old boy and shown just how original it is. I count Sian amongst those 'polishers'. This was a very fine performance, from the incredibly happy opening movement - surely a tribute to Robert and Clara's settled happiness after arriving in Dusseldorf - through the triumphant celebration of all things Rhenish, which is the finale. The end can seem to be a mad scamper with too many half climaxes, but Sian brought that sense of structure which i so admire in her Tchaikovsky and Brahms conducting. This was a revelatory performance, I am sure, for many of the enthusiastic audience.

This was a very fine concert in what has been a very fine season.

Written by Ian Tipping


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