United Kingdom Schubert, Beethoven: Wiolletta Chodowicz (soprano), Hannah Pedley (mezzo0, Andrew Rees, (tenor), Paul Carey Jones, (baritone), Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Sheffield Philharmonic Choir & members of the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus / Jacek Kaspszyk (conductor), City Hall, Sheffield, 17.5.2015 (JK)
Schubert : Symphony no. 3
Beethoven: Symphony no. 9
An affectionate performance of Schubert filled the first half of the concert. The visiting orchestra from Warsaw responded well as Jacek Kaspszyk, conducting without a score, shaped the phrases carefully bringing a touch of chamber music to this work composed by the 18-year old composer.
After the interval, the audience were looking forward to a rousing finale to the 2014/15 Sheffield International Concert Season. And in the last movement of the Choral Symphony, that is exactly what they got. The choir, almost all singing without sheet music, responded wonderfully to the conductor who, again, directed the entire symphony from memory. The soloists gave brave performances – especially Paul Carey Jones and Andrew Rees. The very odd positioning of the four soloists behind the second violins gave a strange impression and did not help when it came to balancing their voices against the orchestra. But their direct accounts did come across well despite the peculiar acoustic of the outdated Victorian hall.
The highlight of the concert, however, was the orchestra’s presentation of the first three movements of the Beethoven. Exchanging the traditional positioning of cellos and violas was highly effective by providing the cellos a direct line to the audience at the start of the last movement. But, once again, the hall’s failings were most evident when the timpani seated on the old, hollowed platform drumming mezzo-forte drowned out the strings in the first movement. However, these were the sorts of failings with which Sheffield audiences have become accustomed.
The orchestra’s performance overcame these wonderfully – especially in the superb account of the third movement where each variation bloomed with a freshness that could only be achieved by players who really loved the work. Jacek Kaspszyk took a well deserved bow at the end but, quite properly, asked the audience to applaud his orchestra that had, once again, revealed what a masterpiece Beethoven had created.