From Darkness To Light – A Concert of Great Promise from the London Firebird Orchestra

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Sibelius, Dvořák: Jennifer Pike (violin), London Firebird Orchestra / George Jackson (conductor). St Paul’s, Covent Garden Piazza, London 20.10.2015. (JPr)

Mozart – Don Giovanni, Overture
Sibelius – Violin Concert
Dvořák – Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88

The London Firebird Orchestra provides a showcase for some of the wealth of young talented musicians. I understand the orchestra comprises of current students, recent graduates and postgraduates of the London conservatoires and provides them with important opportunities to play at the crucial early stages of professional life as well as to collaborate with renowned soloists, conductors and composers also of the younger generation. On this evidence they are one of the very best of a number of similar ensembles and if you want to know more about them visit their website.

In his overture to Don Giovanni (1787) Mozart provides a guide to how he wants us to interpret the strands of comedy and tragedy which collide and overlap during the opera. Whilst enjoying its frivolities it is clear that the composer wants us to embrace its more serious moments and so the darker sides to the story of the serial seducer, Don Juan, provided an appropriate opener to this themed concert – From Darkness To Light. Overcoming the dry and rather forthright acoustics of Covent Garden’s St Paul’s Church with a perfect balance between all parts of the orchestra, up-and-coming young conductor George Jackson coaxed an appropriately dramatic rendering of this overture.

Also making quite a name for herself at a young age is violinist Jennifer Pike who has come a long way since she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2002 at the tender age of 12, when she was the youngest ever winner. Her performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (1904 and later much revised) was terrific. Her well-received recording has been released on Chandos (review). Neither she nor her conductor let the music linger and the concerto revealed all Pike’s strengthens of effortless virtuosity, a plangent, pure tone, and deeply romantic sensibility. The opening seemed to come from a distant icy wasteland and then once free of the glacial cold her sound had a resonant intensity. The Adagio di molto slow movement with its ecstatic climax was played with great warmth and expressivity and the final movement (described by Donald Tovey as a ‘polonaise for polar bears’) was very animated. Jennifer Pike did it full justice with some sweeping bowing and dexterous fingering. Throughout George Jackson injected passion and drive into the playing of his young orchestra, immaculately led by Jacqueline Martens. There was a refined string sound (not always easy to achieve in an ad hoc orchestra), incisive woodwinds and robust brass.

The young maestro has been awarded a number of significant scholarships and was recently the second prize-winner at the Conducting Competition in Bucharest. Jackson also holds the Sir Charles Mackerras Fellowship in Conducting at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire and how appropriate it was that in the church where he is buried he performed music by one of Mackerras’s favourite Czech composers. Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 (1889) is a contrast of G major and minor, and the key fluctuates throughout. There was a refined opening of striking vitality with the first of a number of significant contributions from Emily Andrews’s flute which added the frequent colouring of birdsong to this symphony. The London Firebird Orchestra played impassionedly and George Jackson efficiently guided them through all the changes of tempi and dynamics that Dvořák demands. I found that the third movement had a skittish Mendelssohnian quality to it at times and in the fourth everything became eerily quiet before Jackson steered them onwards and upwards through the final coda like a train driver racing towards the light at the end of a dark tunnel. A very exhilarating conclusion to a concert of great promise and no little achievement.

Jim Pritchard

Leave a Comment