Francesco Manara Plays Tchaikovsky at the RPO, London

Tchaikovsky: Francesco Manara (violin), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Alessandro Fabrizi. Cadogan Hall, 29/03/2011 (KC)

Capriccio Italien Op. 45,

Violin Concerto Op. 35,

Symphony No. 4 Op. 36

The splendour of Tchaikovsky – and of the RPO – was never in doubt. The opening of Capriccio Italien blazoned in arresting, burnished swagger. The Italian fanfare that Tchaikovsky heard every day from the barracks in Rome close by his hotel lay throbbing in Alessandro Fabrizi’s blood. The brass was magnificent – smooth, stately, clear and confident. It was a flawless pronouncement of the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration. Songs followed, culled from street singers in Florence and passers by in Rome. They, too, swung with confident lilt. Tchaikovsky seemed not to have a care in the world. (He was actually fleeing from his impulsive, mistaken, hapless marriage.)

Francesco Manara’s account of the Violin Concerto was brilliant and self-possessed. If anything, it all came just a little too easily – smooth and assured, confident and nonchalant, with flowing passion and authoritative technique. At the time it was an engrossing affair, a captivating performance. As soon as it was over, secondary aspects appeared. The concerto came over as a much cooler affair than the Capriccio Italien. Indeed, the impression of warmth was in part due to afterglow from the Capriccio. Possibly, too, Alessandro Fabrizi may have required the RPO to hold back a little so as not to smother the violin’s tones (which were crystal clear and completely audible throughout). If so, by jettisoning the sheer volume needed for the glorious D major swagger of the long first movement. Fabrizi diminished the concerto’s overall impact. I was left, too, with the impression that Manara was so skilled a player that he may not have had any struggle to master the work – and that his performance possibly lacked something thereby. With the Fourth Symphony, the RPO returned to the magnificent sound of the Capriccio Italien. I must add that the Cadogan Hall contributed also. Being one of the smaller concert venues in London (even compared with St. Luke’s or St. John’s, Smith Square, let alone the RFH) the sound of the RPO playing at full blast fills the hall to bursting in a way that is just not possible in a concert hall with a larger auditorium. The sheer sound was all-encompassing and immediate. Further, the acoustics allow the different sounds of individual instruments to have truly warm and distinct character. That is, the acoustics did Tchaikovsky, the master-orchestrator, proud – whether we were listening to the gentle breathing of the flute, the silken boom of the double basses or the rasp of the trombone.

Listening to the Fourth Symphony in the Cadogan Hall was almost as frightening as it must have been to write it. The brusque shocks of its strident reminders of the horrors of life startled; they woke us up from the dream-world of an ‘ordinary’, agreeable life, flowing lyrically with pleasures. The performance shone. It may not have been the deepest, but it was masterly.

Ken Carter