Stimulating Performances of Three Composers' Works

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SYMPHONY CONCERT, February 5, City Hall; CPO conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes; soloists Barnabas Kelemen and Katalin Kokas; Dvorak : Symphonic Variations, Op 78; Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K364; Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64. DEON IRISH reviews

THE full house in attendance for this concert testified to the popularity of a programme featuring three highly accessible works by three abidingly popular composers. Given that two of the works are undoubted masterpieces, there could not have been many who left the hall without a sense of having spent a thoroughly worthwhile two hours.

Of course, the fact that a musical experience was thoroughly worthwhile, even hugely enjoyable, does not remove it from the ambit of criticism, reflection and postulation. That is the ongoing delight provided by composed music - each performance can be assessed against the score, against other interpretations, and in terms of the performing circumstances.

Every now and then these performance elements align themselves in perfect symmetry and a truly unforgettable performance results.

This was not such an occasion. But it was a most enjoyable concert. It gave rise to considerable after-concert discus- sion, in itself a sign of |engaging and stimulating |performances.

The opening Dvorak set of variations was given a sound enough reading, one in which the increasingly homogenous wind band demonstrated some neat playing.

The trombones (including the new bass trombonist) made their presence felt - perhaps a little too boldly, in the context. The generally good ensemble did rather lapse in the fugato writing of the closing |variations.

There followed one of Mozart's most celebrated works, the very substantial Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, written in 1779 - in the last months of what he would come to call his Salzburg "slavery". The work went unheralded and was virtually forgotten when eventually published 10 years after the composer's death.

However, considering the choice of solo instruments, one can postulate the score might have been originally intended for the composer, a skilled violist, and Papa Leopold, a noted violin pedagogue.

Double concertos always pose technical challenges relating to the accommodation of two instruments with frequently differing musical |attributes.

In the case of the violin and viola, much of the challenge lies in matching the viola's deeper and less projecting tones with the violin's overt brilliance.

The writing is brilliant in this regard, both in terms of the individual instrumental parts (both singly and in combination) and in the sympathetic writing of the orchestral accompaniment.

Still, players are obviously aware of the nascent problem and adjust their normal playing style accordingly. …