Lucky Queenslanders – Alondra de la Parra Charms in Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Stravinsky, Mozart, Beethoven: Jan Lisiecki (piano), Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich  /Alondra de la Parra (conductor), Tonhalle, Zurich 2.2.2017. (JR)

Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.9 (‘Jenamy’)
Beethoven – Symphony No.3 (‘Eroica’)

An attractive programme, an attractive female conductor, surprisingly it did not quite draw the crowds (admittedly the concert was repeated three times).

Stravinsky got the idea for Pulcinella from Diaghilev who had stumbled across some Pergolesi fragments, which he felt Stravinsky could mould into a ballet. Stravinsky jumped on it and the resulting ballet was a great success. Stravinsky went on to write an orchestral suite, which opened this concert. Its folkloristic nature and Iberian character made it clearly a favourite for the orchestra and audience alike and fitted Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra like a fine Spanish leather glove.

De la Parra grew up in Mexico City, studied in the US and lives in New York. She has just become General Music Director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – lucky them. Ms de la Parra came to the music world’s attention through her love of Latin-American music; her debut album CD of Mexican music was on sale prominently in the concert hall foyer. De la Parra is the official Mexican Cultural Ambassador.

In the Stravinsky, de la Parra brought out Stravinsky’s brilliant orchestra colouration with great clarity. The piece is deceptively tricky for the reduced-size orchestra and transparent (to the chagrin of the horn section on the evening I attended). Simon Fuchs (oboe), Julia Becker (violin) and David Bruchez-Lalli (trombone) were the undoubted stars of the show.

In the Mozart all eyes and ears were on 21-year old Polish pianist Jan Lisiecki, the exact same age as Mozart when he wrote this tuneful concerto for young Miss Jenamy, the daughter of one his choreographer friends. Lisiecki displays maturity well beyond his tender years and has admirable technique which also came to the fore in his encore, a Chopin Nocturne. With de la Parra’s able assistance, the melodic concerto was dispatched with joyful abandon. Einstein, no less, thought the concerto was Mozart’s finest and who am I to quibble with Einstein.

Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ proved a much sterner test for de la Parra. Her conducting style, whilst crisp and exact, is elementary. For me, there wasn’t enough muscle and her speeds tended to the slow (I must admit I have never heard it better than under James Levine and (I think) the Philharmonia at the Festival Hall, but that was decades ago). De la Parra’s strength was her balletic grace with which she adorned the gentler passages of the score.

Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable concert, the orchestra played well for the conductor.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, in its review of the concert, pointed out that whilst the Lucerne Festival last summer profiled women conductors and soloists, the Tonhalle had only managed four women conductors out of a total of 40 maestros. Ms de la Parra and her extremely natty and stylish black and white shoes will be most welcome back at the Tonhalle any day – the audience clearly warmed to her.

John Rhodes

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