A Glowing Range of Orchestral Colours from Stutzmann and RLPO

13/04/2018

Verdi, Dvořák, Wagner & Brahms: Thelma Handy (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Nathalie Stutzmann (conductor), Guild Hall, City of Preston, Lancashire 11.4.2018. (MC)

Verdi  Overture, The Force of Destiny

DvořákRomance for violin and orchestra

Wagner Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

Brahms  Symphony No.2

It is not too often that solo singers of international renown also follow a parallel career as a conductor. Nathalie Stutzmann, a noted contralto, is an exception and no one should worry about her having feet in two camps as she recently conducted to considerable praise no less a heavyweight work than Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Monte-Carlo Opera.

Verdi’s overture from the opera The Force of Destiny is rightly a popular choice as concert opener and even though I have heard it played numerous times it never fails to satisfy. With the brass in striking form Stutzmann and her players provided a sense of dark foreboding in a rousing performance which felt uncommonly stormy and quite ferocious at times.

With the profusion of superstar soloists, these days I don’t see an orchestra leader take the solo part in a substantial violin work too often. In Dvořák’s Romance for violin and orchestra a delightfully lyrical work of a distinctly intimate nature I have heard several renowned soloists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter and Midori play the work in concert. This evening leader Thelma Handy was soloist in the Romance whose approach by comparison felt tentative, unable to stamp any individuality on the score. Despite some slight intonation issues her instrument emitted an attractive tone yet I was left wondering what might have been.

Wagner’s music drama Tristan und Isolde is regarded widely as a landmark score in the history of classical music. It contains the Prelude and the final act Liebestod (Love–Death) one of the finest examples of love music ever written. We heard the Prelude and Liebestod which is Wagner’s fused together purely orchestral version commonly performed away from the opera house as a stand-alone work. Stutzmann’s experience in singing Wagner and recently conducting Tannhäuser showed as she assuredly conducted the Prelude and Liebestod drawing as much passion and sheer drama as she was able from the players who responded quite magnificently.

After the interval Stutzmann conducted Brahms’ Symphony No.2 a work that the composer completed quickly mainly during a summer holiday in the resort of Pörtschach am Wörthersee, Austria. This was an impressively coherent if standard account in which Stutzmann unmistakably lavished considerable care and attention. The results were fresh and invigorating, strongly evocative of rustic Alpine scenes. Convincingly the playing had a heartfelt glow resulting in a performance that felt delightful and uplifting. It would be remiss not to highlight the glowing range of orchestral colours that the players produced.

Michael Cookson

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