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Review: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Glinka, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under its conductor, Domingo Hindoyan, presented a wonderful evening of music making at the Corn Exchange on Wednesday (February 19).

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The concert began with a short work, the Overture to the opera A Life for the Tsar by Mikhail Glinka, the nineteenth-century Russian nationalist whose comparatively short output nevertheless went on to influence many of Russia’s greatest composers, among them Tchaikovsky, and especially his 5th Symphony with which the evening’s programme concluded.

The Royal Philharmonic mounted a splendid delivery of this stirring work which introduces one of Glinka’s two operas, this particular one celebrating the ascendancy of a new tsar, in spite of the threat posed to Russia from the invading Polish army.

From its slow, soulful beginning through energetic passages on the strings and a melodic interval on woodwind, the overture builds to a powerful crescendo. It concludes a composition of such national popularity that it apparently became the mainstay of the opening of every season at the Bolshoi for many years.

The soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 was multi-award- winning British pianist Leon McCawley who in many respects, one would have to say, is the perfect pianist.

McCawley gave a spellbinding performance of this concerto named as Beethoven’s first because, although actually preceded in composition by his second, the C Major was first to be published, hence the title. Beethoven had met Mozart in Vienna in 1787 and the latter’s influence is clear everywhere.

McCawley was superlative in the first movement’s lengthy cadenza (one of three Beethoven wrote for the concerto), and in the expansive and serene Largo where, towards the end, delicate trills and a throbbing, ever so slightly troubled, intervention in the lower keys leads on to the sprightly and spirited rondo.

Leon McCawley’s understanding of this beautiful music was complete. At one point he produced a handkerchief and wiped away a tear, was it? One would like to think so. It was impossible not to be moved by both the ability of the composer to create such a thing, and a performer who could engage with it so masterfully.

After the interval, The Royal Philharmonic gave a truly superb account of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony. The low clarinets, always such an evocative sound in this composer’s work, open the first movement which, with its initial sombre tread, goes on to develop into a lovely melodic sequence reminiscent of some of the composer’s ballet works.

The second movement has a famous solo horn passage, here beautifully played, while Domingo Hindoyan deliberately accentuated the sway of the waltz time movement which succeeds it. The quietly descending scale of clarinet and bassoon together intrudes an element of melancholy into these otherwise joyful proceedings where notions of Fate and personal passion seem to be vying throughout for prominence.

Violinist and conductor, Domingo Hindoyan, one-time member of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, is another distinguished Venezuelan musician to have graced the Corn Exchange in recent times. Just over three years ago pianist Gabriela Montero performed with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and, like Domingo, she too is a product of El Sistema, the enlightened system in Venezuela which puts music at the heart of children’s education in that country.

It is to be hoped that The Royal Philharmonic under Domingo Hindoyan’s baton will return to delight us with just such another engaging programme in the not-too-distant future.

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