Disappointingly Small Audience for the Virtuosi of Tomorrow

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Vivaldi, Weber, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Various soloists as detailed below, Welsh Sinfonia, Mark Eager (conductor), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 21.11.2013 (PCG)

Mozart – Violin Concerto No 4 in D, K218: 1st movement (Harriet Haynes, violin)
Vivaldi – Flute Concerto in G minor, RV439 [Jack Welch, flute)
Weber – Bassoon Concerto in F, Op.75: 1st movement (Angharad Thomas, bassoon)
Shostakovich – Cello Concerto No 1 in Eb, Op.107: 1st movement (Shu Odawara, cello)
Mozart – Violin Concerto No 5 in A, K219: 1st movement (Grace Buttler, violin)
Vivaldi – Oboe Concerto in A minor, RV461: 1st and 2nd movements (Felicity Cowell, oboe)
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D, Op.35: 1st movement (Rita Lam Wai Sin, violin)

Because this concert started unexpectedly half an hour earlier than is usual with Welsh Sinfonia programmes, I arrived just too late to catch the first item on this programme featuring young soloists from Wells Cathedral School and the Cardiff City Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra. Last time I reviewed a concert at this venue, I complained that the audience was admitted during the course of the music, so it is hardly appropriate for me to complain that I was made to wait until the second item of the concert began!

In his spoken introduction Mark Eager remarked upon the “truly professional” nature of the young performers, and the truth of this observation was generally clear throughout; and this review is written with the highest standards in mind. It was a great shame that the audience was so small, forty people or so including supporters and friends of the soloists; they can’t all have arrived late! But these performers deserved better.

Jack Welch’s playing of the Vivaldi flute concerto (the only work we were given complete) was light as a feather, although one might have welcomed a piece that gave him more opportunity to display his obviously affectionate playing and phrasing. The opening tutti of the Weber bassoon concerto was weighty and very resonant in the acoustic of the hall, but the composer’s scoring was careful not to overpower the soloist. The bassoon in the early nineteenth century seems to have been a more beefy instrument than its modern counterpart (Beethoven notoriously expects a heroic sort of response in his Fifth Symphony) and Angharad Thomas could not match that sort of demand, but she was delightfully perky in the main theme which seems to have anticipated (and possibly inspired) the oboe theme in the second movement of Schubert’s Great C major Symphony.

Shu Odawara sounded totally unfazed by Shostakovich’s demands on the soloist in his first cello concerto, and sailed confidently over the composer’s busy accompaniment with its shrill piccolo, growling double bassoon and thumping timpani. The small size of the orchestra positively helped balance, but there was never any suspicion of a lack of impact. However Grace Buttler after the interval sounded decidedly uneasy in the Mozart violin concerto, with some evident difficulties of tuning (not so much in the high-lying passages, but more unexpectedly in the lower ones). Standing around for three minutes during the opening tutti could hardly have calmed her nerves, but she recovered towards the end of the movement even when the cadenza highlighted her intonation problems. She may just need more experience in front of an audience.

Nerves were certainly not a problem for the very young-looking Felicity Cowell, who produced a stream of beautifully sustained golden tone in the Vivaldi concerto which followed. There was not much call for this in the busy first movement, but in the second movement she displayed plenty of subtlety and intensity. The real highlight of this concert however came with the performance of the Tchaikovsky by Rita Lam Wai Sin, a fully rounded and formed player who seemed ready to step onto the professional concert platform at any time. One might have suspected that the small orchestra would have failed to do justice to Tchaikovsky’s richly romantic lines, but the composer’s care to double the big violin lines with flutes paid real dividends and one hardly missed the full string body after the opening bars. From the very first phrases Sin sounded absolutely secure in her command of the music, displaying plenty of light and shade as well as pinpoint accuracy. She took a highly individual approach to the cadenza, but she made it convincing with her harmonics always spot in tune. The performance, roundly cheered by an audience which hardly outnumbered the orchestra, brought the evening to a most satisfying conclusion.

Paul Corfield Godfrey


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