United Kingdom Shostakovich, Borodin, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Elgar, Tchaikovsky & Arturo Márquez: Tasmin Little (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Manuel López-Gómez (conductor), Guild Hall, Preston, 13.1.2015. (MC)
Shostakovich: Festive Overture
Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
Brahms: Hungarian Dances No’s 1, 5 & 6
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, Op. 64
Dvořák: Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4
Tchaikovsky: Fantasy overture, Romeo and Juliet
Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 2
Inspired by the Classic FM Hall of Fame this Preston concert included eight of the most famous pieces of classical music all highly melodic and easily accessible. If the intension was to attract newcomers with a popular programme it certainly worked as this was the largest audience I had seen for a Liverpool Philharmonic concert at Preston for five or six years. Conducting the orchestra was Manuel López-Gómez a new name to me who has emerged from El Sistema, the internationally recognised publicly funded National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela. Superstar conducer Gustavo Duhamel ‘The Dude’ is the name most commonly associated with the El Sistema programme.
Shostakovich’s Festive Overture ,a work written during the Soviet era for the celebrations marking the anniversary of the October Revolution, was the perfect curtain-raiser for its energy and orchestral brilliance. Reminding me of early Rachmaninov the work – bombastic in parts with its blazing opening brass fanfare to set the scene – splendidly displayed a number of attractive melodies. Staying with the Russian theme Borodin’s symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia was commissioned to mark the Silver Jubilee of Alexander II of Russia. Borodin’s approach was typical of the fascination in Russia at that time for all things connected to the Orient. Assisted by López-Gómez’s noticeably steady beat the performance brimming with exotic atmosphere evoked for me the sights, sounds and aromas of a camel caravan winding its way across the Steppes.
Brahms wrote twenty-one Hungarian Dances all highly melodic short pieces based on original Hungarian themes or the composer’s own. Enamoured by the success of the first set for piano four-hands his publisher kept asking for more of the same which Brahms provided – even orchestrating a number of them. For this Preston concert López-Gómez selected Hungarian Dances No’s 1, 5 and 6, such attractive pieces played with freshness and sheer exuberance.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening was Tasmin Little’s performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Mendelssohn had a special gift for melody and Little resplendent in her tangerine coloured gown is eminently suited to this cultivated romantic concerto that overflows with an abundance of memorable and beautiful themes. With her sweet toned Guadagnini instrument gleaming in the spotlight noticeable was Little’s crisp articulation and assured control making everything look so incredibly easy. In the hands of this extremely popular soloist combined with the sensitive support from López-Gómez and his players I don’t think I’ve ever heard Mendelssohn’s concerto played better.
With all now suitably refreshed the second half of the concert began with Dvořák’s popular Humoresque the seventh from his Op. 101 set of eight piano pieces. Dvořák’s score was arranged for violin and orchestra and is an often used encore piece. I’m not sure why Tasmin Little came back for the second half of the concert just to play this piece lasting just four minutes when it would have made a perfect encore to her performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Nevertheless Dvořák’s toothsome morsel went down a treat in Little’s charmingly reflective performance.
It would be difficult not to admire the playing of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 with its memorable main melody that the composer said would “knock em flat.” This bold and noble score is a foot-tapping showstopper and López-Gómez with considerable control expertly avoided going overboard with the dramatic qualities letting the music speak for itself. Next another ‘warhorse’ of the repertoire Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture: Romeo and Juliet. Nothing seemed overblown in this highly passionate score and López-Gómez directed an eloquent performance obtaining a palette of vivid colours from his players with special credit due to the mellifluous cor anglais. Tchaikovsky keeps the glorious love theme back a while but when finally revealed it certainly sent a shiver down the spine.
To conclude the concert came Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2 – such a stunning orchestral showpiece that has become firmly associated with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Sometimes called Mexico’s second National anthem with Danzón No. 2 the Mexican composer employs dance rhythms from Cuba and the Veracruz region of Mexico. Relishing the enticing rhythms López-Gómez and his players thrilled the audience with an electrifying performance of disarming vitality and exuberance.