City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra in an inspiring evening of Rossini, Beethoven and Walton at West Road Concert Hall
The overture to one of Rossini's two act operas, The Thieving Magpie, made a glorious opening to Saturday's concert by the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CCSO) under its endlessly imaginative conductor Robert Hodge.
This lively piece with its superb orchestration somehow announces ‘Italia’ as much as Elgar’s music proclaims England. Rossini had a supreme gift for melody and is alleged to have said that he could set a laundry list to music.
These days the overtures have pretty much displaced the operas in popularity, such as the one for William Tell, well-known to children of the 1950s as the theme for the TV series The Lone Ranger, and for many probably their first experience of classical music.
Rossini’s career as a composer was effectively over by his mid-30s even though he lived on for almost 40 years; something of a mystery, though not without parallels, Sibelius being another composer whose lapse into silence continued for the last 30 years of his life.
The soloist for the next work on the programme, Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto, was the young multi-award-winning Ukrainian pianist, Dinara Klinton.
Dinara is on record as saying that although she worked hard at them, playing Bach’s Inventions at the age of four and a half was not particularly difficult for her. With a refreshing directness she now admits that this, in her own words, was because she was a prodigy. And to judge from this matchless performance she has surely never spoken more truly.
Her approach was to make every note of the concerto absolutely count, but our possibly complacent sense of her focus and composure was occasionally ambushed by a sudden bounce on the piano stool or cat-like pounce on the keys that came as a surprise to make the music she was deeply experiencing almost visible to us. Sometimes, in the concerto’s numerous sustained trills, she seemed to be detached and listening, almost as though she’d become a member of the audience herself.
The CCSO provided sensitive playing throughout, especially for example in the second movement where the piano becomes effectively little more than an accompaniment to a duet between bassoon and flute.
Acknowledging her ovation from a packed auditorium, Dinara performed the first movement of Beethoven’s piano sonata op.27 no.2, ‘The Moonlight’, her seamless and magical delivery holding the audience in an almost reverential silence.
The concert concluded with William Walton’s first symphony, written while the composer was suffering from great emotional upheaval in his personal life.
Such was his turmoil that in 1934 he felt obliged to allow the symphony its first ‘airing’ as a ‘fragment’, so to speak, before he could find the ability to create the fourth movement and make possible its debut as a complete work in the following year.
The CCSO gave a powerful performance. The opening movement had a flavour of the open prairie, the Badlands one might say of the Hollywood Western, and we are reminded of course that Walton did go on later to write scores for the cinema.
The second movement’s mischievous, almost playful mood (it must be the only one in the repertoire marked to be performed ‘with malice’) seems to anticipate in some ways Bernstein’s Prologue to West Side Story.
A quieter movement with a melancholy and beautifully played flute passage succeeded, while a gesture to this sense of melancholy was still detectable, haunting an otherwise triumphant and strenuously upbeat Finale.
The concert was effectively framed by the orchestra’s brilliant percussion section, ranging from the snare drum’s introduction in Rossini to the conclusion of the symphony, all crashing cymbals, gong and timpani.
It was, as usual, an inspiring evening of committed performances from the CCSO.