Classical Favourites Receive a Makeover in Cheltenham

 United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven, Dvořák: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra / David Curtis (conductor), Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 1.2.2014. (RJ)

Mozart: Overture – The Magic Flute K620
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Op 61
Dvořák: Symphony No 8 in G

It was clear that the genial David Curtis has been working in China recently for his first move was to invite the audience to turn on their mobile phones, take pictures of the orchestra and then tweet their friends to tell them what they were missing. Afterwards the phones were dutifully switched off and the concert got underway with a flash-free performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture which was well prepared and had variety and sparkle.

 The young Waley-Cohens are making quite a name for themselves these days. Sam Waley-Cohen is well known within the racing fraternity as a prize-winning amateur jockey, while his cousin Tamsin is making her mark as a violinist of great merit.  She appeared remarkably relaxed before embarking on one for the most demanding of all violin concertos, but she obviously felt she was in good hands. She has performed on numerous occasions with tonight’s conductor and the bond of trust between the two was much in evidence as the music progressed.

 There was an expansive, relaxed feel to the orchestral tutti which introduces the main themes  of the first movement with some sublime playing from the woodwind section. Tamsin then entered with a flourish and proceeded to show how these themes can sound even better when played on a solo violin. Her performance flowed impeccably; she handled the decorated passages effortlessly and responded to the technical challenges of the cadenza at the end with great aplomb. At times it seemed as if two violins were playing simultaneously.

 The orchestra eased us gently into the Larghetto and the quiet, unhurried approach enabled the violin to sing out its melodies with some serene hushed pianissimos. Then in a trice the mood changed and David Curtis allowed his musicians off the leash in the jaunty finale in which Tamsin participated with obvious relish making dazzling use of the violin’s melodic range. Yet there was a look back to the tranquility of the slow movement in the wistful song-like melody which calmed down the high spirits for a while. This was a performance which touched the soul and made the familiar sound extraordinary. Tamsin has been engaged to play the Tchaikovsky and Brahms concertos with Curtis and the CSO on two more occasions in the spring, and I for one can’t wait to hear them.

 The second half of the programme was devoted to another very familiar work, but under David Curtis’s direction Dvořák’s Eighth sounded fresh and newly minted. Again the woodwind covered themselves with glory in their imitation of birdsong and the first two movements came over as an exhilarating celebration of the great outdoors. The third movement intermezzo had an undisputed charm infused with melancholy, and there was a wealth of contrast in the variations of the final movement which built up to a vigorous conclusion.

Roger Jones

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