Bax, Nielsen and Rachmaninov

Tintagel Castle, on the rocky Cornwall coast at the south-western tip of Britain, is now an ancient ruin. According to legend, it was from here that Merlin took the baby King Arthur to raise him in secret: it was to here that Iseult (Isolde) came from Ireland to marry King Mark but fell in love with Tristan.

Arnold Bax's tone poem Tintagel, which opened yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä, represents the strong wind and tides of the site, as well as its tempestuous legends. Though it's Bax's best-known work, it's rarely heard in concerts: it deserves to be, and yesterday's performance did it full justice.

Also infrequently heard is the attractive and lyrical Violin Concerto by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen: it was well played by Leonidas Kavakos. The rousing end to the first movement fooled most of the audience - plainly unfamiliar with the work - into applauding as if it was the end of the piece; the conductor had to indicate to them that there was more to come. The cheerful and light-hearted final movement was played with a fine deftness of touch, and received a well-deserved ovation.

The concert ended with Rachmaninov's Third Symphony. Though he is principally known for his piano concertos - and after he left the increasingly repressive Soviet Union he concentrated largely on his performing career - Rachmaninov also composed the three symphonies, three operas, three cantatas and numerous piano works. The Third Symphony is a long and expansive work, basically Romantic, but with use of some modernistic techniques and with an underlying sadness. A fine performance until the last movement, which Vänskä took rather too fast - and the final section much too fast, which exciting though it may have been, rather obscured a good deal of the important melodic detail.

All three works are easy to listen to: yet the hall was about one-quarter empty (very rough estimate). If the concert had included Rachmaninov's second Piano Concerto it would have been packed - sadly, audiences tend to want to hear music they already know. Orchestras need to fill the hall to survive financially, so many concerts recycle the familiar favourites. A dilemma for orchestras: but most of them do manage to include some less familiar works, and yesterday's concert was well worth hearing.

Posted: Sun - December 9, 2007 at 09:24 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM