Dvorak, Bruçh, Brahms: Jennifer Pike, (violin), BBC National Orchestra of Wales Cornelius Meister, conductor, Grand Theatre, Swansea, 20.6.2014 (NHR)
Dvorak, ‘Carnival’ Overture op. 92
Bruçh, Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor
Brahms, Symphony no. 2 in D major, op. 73
The final concert in the BBC NOW’s Swansea series at the Grand Theatre featured a popular programme and attracted a considerably larger audience than usual, although it was hard at times not to sense a slight end-of-season feel to some of the playing. Everything was clearly articulated and well organised, but somehow that extra spark of full engagement occasionally went missing. This wasn’t the fault of the guest conductor Cornelius Meister, young, energetic, outgoing, and already massively experienced, steeped in the most rigorous German tradition (conducting Brahms’s Second Symphony without the impediment of a score, for example). Nor was it the fault of Jennifer Pike, who gave a nicely-shaped and well-projected performance of Bruch’s concerto, allowing the sentiment to emerge from the notes rather than forcing it upon them. Here the orchestra did respond with some evident pleasure to her playing, and the audience were sufficiently moved to demand an encore; she gave us the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita, a slightly odd but not unwelcome choice in the middle of so unashamedly romantic a programme.
Dvorak’s Carnival Overture had bounce and swing, and well-sustained calmness at its centre, while at times sounding a little tinny – on reflection this effect and maybe some of my other reservations about this concert were really caused by the difficult arrangement of the players on a stage not quite big enough for them, with the brass, the back ranks of the second violins and in particular the double basses just too far back to give sufficient weight to the sound. It was notable, though, that the cellos were very strong with some beautiful phrasing in the Brahms, and that Meister allowed no more lingering over the wistful lyricism of the slow movement than he had in Bruch’s. He pulled something more like the necessary fire out of his players in the symphony’s finale, and the conclusion, with its marvellous abrupt pause, was really rousing.
It has been an interesting and sometimes memorable concert series, but I think both orchestra and audience will be glad to be able to revert to the Brangwyn Hall as soon as it reopens.