Sunday, 3 May 2015

Showbiz songs and a shaky Dvořák no 9 (LPO/ Balsom)

Bernstein, Tovey and Dvořák (LPO cond. Marios Papdopoulos, De Montfort Hall)
The LPO, just before they get down properly to the business of music-making at Glyndebourne, tour to places like Stoke, Manchester, Leeds and Leicester. ‘Live and local’, is the tagline, whatever that means over any other orchestral performance. It involves a fairly ‘famous’ principal too, and this year it was Alison Balsom, as well as a full-sized orchestra and for 2015 an American theme. The Leicester Mercury doesn't bother with orchestral music, but it did have a profile piece; publicists at work, I suspect. Tickets only £15 and the auditorium was half-full. Beyond me why this would be the case, perhaps everyone is away for the bank holiday weekend? For some reason JTI bankroll this. Guilt about selling tobacco, perhaps? Or at least some good publicity?  But what could be more American than (a) tobacco and (b) that kind of corporate calculation? See about it here. Undoubtedly it is a different audience to the  Philharmonia, with a lot of much younger people attending – presumably the cheap tickets are part of the draw. 
Being used to the Philharmonia at the De Montfort Hall, there is an air of showbiz here. The orchestra enters as a whole, and it was clearly rehearsed. They started with the overture to Candide which isn’t my cup of tea but it certainly warmed up the orchestra. Then two sharply suited gentlemen came on stage to sort everything out – not the usual stagehands from De Montfort, presumably these chaps travel in the entourage too. Perhaps their tailors also? It took almost as long as the first piece to rearrange the stage for the second. All a bit showbizzy. Marios Papdopoulos (cond.) did the first piece without a score, so his music stand had to be dragged across the stage. Quite unnecessary: but just in case you missed it, I suppose. Not unlike Barenboim’s fiddling with his stand at the Proms before closing the score ostentatiously.
Alison arrived on stage, in a smart black ensemble but with killer yellow patent-leather heels in a colour otherwise known only to Staedtler’s highlighter division. Showbiz.
Her piece was Bramwell Tovey’s Songs of the Paradise Saloon, which Tovey adapted from an opera of his. It invites, really, the trumpet to sing as much as anything else, and I thought it took a little while for Balsom and the orchestra to gel with this. I wondered if it took a while for this gel and so, but this is the fourth and final performance according to the programme. I doubt that the six week rehearsal period enjoyed in Sussex by the orchestra applies here.
Tovey talks about the songs.  Also see here.
Balsom’s encore was Oblivion, by Argentine composer Piazzolla, from her new album Paris. This was an extremely beautiful short piece, tender and remarkably moving.  
After the interval, Dvořák no 9. For this the music stand was dragged away again, and it told. Barenboim might do the Walkure without a score, but he has spent decades on this music and knows every note. Papadopoulos’ conducting to my mind unravelled, and there were plenty of time when it all seemed a bit out of control; in later movements, it felt like musicians getting really in to their parts, without someone more sensible of the total effect reigning it in a bit. What I might term the dynamic range of the New World Symphony is enormous- some quiet pieces some louder ones.  All parts of the orchestra work hard at different times. It is glorious music to make your heart sing. I would recommend it as a great introduction to orchestral music- much like Brahms 4, each single bar is full of something. Never a dull moment.Yet it all needs a firm hand on the rudder. And here it didn’t have it. But the conductor didn’t need a score, apparently. So the whole thing got out of hand and started to eat its tail. The music should take precedence over showbiz. An honourable mention to Hannah Grayson's beautiful tender flute solo.
The programme note suggested it can be read two ways: as an expression of the opportunity of America, but also a longing for home. And unlike the stellar performance from the Philharmonia where one saw every spot of hope, opportunity –was Paul Bunyan sitting next to me. Maybe I just imagined it, but I wondered if the orchestra had had enough of being away from home, and were thinking of the Sussex Downs with a longing much like Dvořák.

Overall: less showbiz, more music making.

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