The Slav world and the New World

Yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall was given by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam - looking, as usual, like Father Christmas but certainly conducting with a romantic fire.

Russian music in the first half: after a lively performance of the Overture to Glinka's opera Ruslan and Ludmilla, Nicola Benedetti was the soloist in Glazunov's Violin Concerto. Glazunov tends to be dismissed as a lightweight composer, but this concerto is a fine work: although a pianist, Glazunov apparently learned to play the violin in order to understand it better for this concerto (though I doubt he would have been able to learn to master its technical complexities). The prominent music writer Hans Keller ranked it with the Brahms as a first-class example of a violin concerto written by a pianist: and though I have to say I don't think it compares with the Brahms it certainly stands as an attractive and impressive work, though perhaps its brevity (21 minutes) tends to exclude it from serious critical consideration.

It consists of two linked movements, the first starting in a dark tone and becoming romantic; the second is a set of variations on an attractive melody, involving not only some very difficult passages for the soloists but some complex orchestration which could easily turn into a scramble - though not here.

Nicola Benedetti was playing an almost 300-year-old Stradiviarius (the 'Earl Spencer'); on the basis of this concert it has a particularly warm and rich tone - the opening passage sounded almost like a viola; altogether a splendid performance of a concerto which deserves to be heard more often.

The concert finished with Dvořák's 9th Symphony, 'From the New Word', composed in 1893 while on a visit to America. He was fascinated by both the Negro and American Indian music (though he had difficulty telling them apart and thought they sounded like Scottish music!). The symphony, though there are melodic nods to the style of Negro Spirituals, is more Bohemian than American.

Of course it's a well known work - I'm very familiar with it as I bought what was probably the first LP recording of it in 1954 (conducted by Enrique Jorda): of course this can make one expect performances to sound the same as the performance one grew up with, which is hardly reasonable; but apart from a couple of moments which I though were over-expressive I found it highly enjoyable and well performed. However familiar a work from records is it's always useful to hear a live performance and this gorgeous symphony is always worth a listen.

Posted: Fri - October 16, 2009 at 10:41 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM