Not quite earthshaking:Saporro Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall perfromance

Takemitsu, Bruch, Shostakovich Akiko Suwanai (violin); Sapporo Symphony Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka. Royal Festival Hall London, 23.5. 2011 (CC)

Takemitsu: How Slow the Wind
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

A stimulating programme from the Sapporo orchestra  (an orchestra founded in 1961 – as the Sapporo Citizen Symphony and renamed in the next year). This was a concert “given in aid of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund” – a poignant event, therefore, providing the setting for Takemitsu’s 1991 piece How Slow the Wind (the title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem). The strings managed creditably with Takemitsu’s glacial fragility and Debussy-influenced lines. It was a brave way to begin, and the players pulled it off.

Akiko Suwanai has in the past proved herself a fine musician, but the Bruch did not find her in finest fettle. Against the background of a hyper-disciplined orchestra, one marveled at her accuracy, her sweet, spot-on high register and, indeed, the sheer volume of her playing. And therein, in the last of the list, lay the problem: subtlety was not much in evidence. . The melody of the central Adagio was hardly vocal, and perfect trills hardly compensate. Neither did Suwanai and Otaka work in partnership to effect anything like a shattering climax with the great horn theme. Even the usually unstoppable momentum of the finale was not quite realised.

The performance of the Shostakovich similarly lay on the surface of the music. The edge of the second movement was almost entirely lost, so that although much was sweet, nothing was outrageous. Technically there were some high points – extraordinarily well-drilled pizzicati, for example – but the fibre of the music was lost; similarly the rapt centre of the famous Largo was conspicuous by its absence. Difficult corners were clearly highly rehearsed – as, for example, when the oboe takes over from the pianissimo violins – but the heart of the third movement’s experience was largely lost. There was little sense of organic growth, which meant the climax almost came as a surprise (even in this massively familiar score). The climactic moment  lost its significance. If the relentless movement and nice woodwind counterpoint of the finale provided hints of what the orchestra is capable of, this remained a fundamentally unsatisfactory account.

Colin Clarke