Mature and Persuasive Playing from Simone Lamsma

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninov: Simone Lamsma (violin), Hallé/Nikolaj Znaider (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Sunday 12th January 2014 (MC)

Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien
Violin Concerto
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

The last time I saw Nikolaj Znaider perform at the Bridgewater Hall he was the soloist in a stunning performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the Hallé under the baton of Mark Elder. Now Nikolaj Znaider has become one of a long line of artists who have swapped the violin for the baton. Unlike some players who have switched roles he has not ceased performing as a violin soloist which would have been a terrible loss to the concert platform.

Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien the opening work of the evening is a fantasy for orchestra inspired by a carnival enjoyed by the composer during a holiday in Rome. Tchaikovsky may have been uplifted by the Roman carnival but overall I didn’t feel a similar exhilaration from the performance which all felt rather lacklustre, too static. Certain aspects that I did find stimulating and which have stuck in the consciousness were the opening brass fanfares and the delicious melody so brilliantly played by the pair of oboes.

In 2006 I recall reviewing Simone Lamsma’s debut CD of Elgar works for violin and piano on Naxos’s Laureate Series a recording which was her reward for winning first Prize in the 2004 Benjamin Britten International Violin Competition. This evening Lamsma on her Hallé debut was playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concer, a warhorse of the repertoire that in recent years seems to have become rather less frequent a visitor to the concert hall. There was nothing routine about Lamsma’s mature and persuasive approach to the Concerto which drew the listener in, astutely providing significant drama marked by a broad range of tone and dynamic. Especially effective was Lamsma’s impassioned playing of the brooding central movement Canzonetta: Andante. At times it felt as if her ‘ex Braga’ Stradivarius was weeping such was the intensity of emotion casting a spell that not even an errant sneezer could break. Totally responsive to the needs of the soloist the empathetic Znaider ensured that his players never smothered the soloist’s tone with excess volume.

If the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is maybe not as popular as it once was the opposite could be said about the increasingly performed Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, a product of his American years. Maestro Znaider seemed very much at one with the demands of Rachmaninov’s multi-coloured score providing bite and plenty of forward momentum in the stunning opening dance Non Allegro. In remarkable form all evening the choir of woodwind sounded especially vibrant with the high strings and cellos combining to great effect. I’ve never heard the central dance movement played better with the description of a “haunted waltz” sounding decidedly apt. Once again the rich string sound and the splendidly played cor anglais and saxophone added to the sense of dark fantasy. His final orchestral work, Rachmaninov said of the Symphonic Dances It must have been my last spark” and the accomplished Hallé under Nikolaj Znaider brought it stunningly to life.

Michael Cookson