Pianist-Composer Reveals her Credentials as a Conductor

10/02/2014

  Mozart, Dvořák, Wagner, Beethoven: George Ewart (violin), Cheltenham Chamber Orchestra / Alissa Firsova (conductor), St Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham, 8.2.2014. (RJ)

Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo
Dvořák: Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op 11
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll, WWV 103
Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op 62
Mozart: Symphony No 39 in E flat Major, K543
Is there no end to Alissa Firsova’s prodigious talent? She has already made a name for herself as a pianist of distinction and as a composer of note. At the age of 15, for instance, she won the BBC/Guardian/Proms Young Composer competition. More recently she has collaborated with her parents Elena Firsova and Dimitri Smirnov on Dante’s Divine Comedy, a string quartet commissioned by the Dante Quartet – who else? Her parents contributed Inferno and Purgatorio while she composed the movement entitled Paradiso.

Now the 27 year old has added another string to her bow – conducting, and judging from the performances she gave this evening she has totally mastered her trade. There was a quiet confidence about her manner as she launched into the ballet music which forms the climax to Mozart’s Idomeneo. Most productions of the opera leave this music out – ballet in opera is more of a French tradition! – and it is a rare to hear it in the concert hall. Yet it is impressive stuff from a 24 year old.  Described as a chaconne, it is more akin to a grand rondo with a recurrent theme for the corps de ballet and interludes for solo dancers. It was a pity the programme notes did not include a description of the ballet and the individual dances, which meant the audience had to use its imagination.

Dvořák had recently got married when he composed his Romance and it is certainly a most attractive piece. After a tranquil silky opening the mellow sound of George Ewart’s violin brought a golden glow to the proceedings. This is essentially a lyrical piece with a more dramatic chromatic passage affording a measure of contrast, but after a robust orchestral tutti the clamour subsided and the serenity returned. Alissa controlled the orchestra admirably achieving a good balance between the soloist and the other musicians.

Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll was all it should be – a wonderful evocation of the countryside around Triebschen – with the orchestra achieving some beautifully controlled pianissimos. Later Alissa brought high drama to much of the Coriolan Overture which made the hero’s response to his mother’s pleadings and his suicide all the more poignant.

The performance of the Symphony No 39 was exemplary exposing Mozart’s craftsmanship with such clarity. It clearly takes a composer to appreciate the subtleties of another composer. I loved the relaxed and elegant Andante, while the jaunty Minuet featured a breathtakingly gentle trio with fine playing by the woodwind. The perpetuum mobile finale breezed along, but no notes got lost in the scurry and it had a nice range of dynamics.

My one regret was that no contemporary music was included in the concert. I would have thought that Firsova’s Serenade for Strings, premiered last year, would have fitted the bill admirably. This was surely a missed opportunity

 

Roger Jones

 

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