thu 01/10/2020

Hewitt, Clein, Aurora Orchestra, Ward, Kings Place review – rise and shine | reviews, news & interviews

Hewitt, Clein, Aurora Orchestra, Ward, Kings Place review – rise and shine

Hewitt, Clein, Aurora Orchestra, Ward, Kings Place review – rise and shine

Louise Farrenc, fresh from 19th-century Paris, arrives with a spring in her step

A portrait of Louise Farrenc, whose music holds its own beside her best contemporaries

Why does music suddenly disappear? It is all the more heartening when a work as excellent and enjoyable as Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No 3 takes wing once more, but you do have to wonder how in the world such a terrific orchestral piece was permitted to sink and vanish in its day under a morass of dubious opera.

Why does music suddenly disappear? It is all the more heartening when a work as excellent and enjoyable as Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No 3 takes wing once more, but you do have to wonder how in the world such a terrific orchestral piece was permitted to sink and vanish in its day under a morass of dubious opera. The symphony formed the second half of the Aurora Orchestra’s latest concert in its Pioneers series, for Kings Place's "Venus Unwrapped" focus on music by female composers, and very welcome it was. 

Farrenc (1804-1875) was a highly successful and well-regarded musician in her day, known as a brilliant pianist and the only female professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Her Third Symphony, premiered in 1849, bristles with post-Beethovenian energy; the idiom is a little like Weber, but with a voice all its own, deftly written with never a note too many, plus a satisfying feel for structure and strong conclusions. The slow movement contains some enchanting ambiguity between major and minor, the scherzo fizzes and pounds and the finale is bright with contrapuntal virtuosity. Duncan WardIt was new to most of this audience and the orchestra too – but this was the performance it needed, thanks to the splendid advocacy of the young British conductor Duncan Ward (pictured above), who drew out the distinct characters of every theme, guiding us through the narrative (from memory) with masterful clarity and a wealth of affection. He and the Aurora plunged us headlong into the composer’s atmospheric world; you could almost feel you would walk out of the hall into 19th-century Paris. Farrenc is easily as good as innumerable composers of her era who are trotted out much more often; perhaps, instead of harping on about why, one should simply applaud her rehabilitation and encourage everyone to start programming her music on a regular basis.

The concert opened with a world premiere that paid tribute to a pioneer of another kind. Charlotte Bray’s The Certainty of Tides (the composer pictured below) was commissioned by the First 100 Years to celebrate the centenary of women in the UK and Ireland being permitted to join the legal profession after Parliament passed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919. The title is from Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise and the composer credits the sculpture Amidst the Powerful and the Powerless by Drago Trsar as her inspiration. A solo cello – Natalie Clein, with powerful, eloquent and full-blooded tone – is offset by a string orchestra that interacts with the solo line in discussions plangent with expression and spangled with pizzicato; much of the piece is wrought around soaring cello lines that, suitably enough, rise.

Charlotte BrayAnd thence to Mozart, the Piano Concerto in E flat K482. Of his 27 piano concertos, only a handful pop up regularly in concert; this ought to be one of them, yet it’s relatively unusual. It is half a step – and only 10 Köchel catalogue numbers – away from the opera The Marriage of Figaro, and Mozart treats the woodwind instruments almost as a group of singers, soloists in their own right, especially in the engaging set of variations that forms the slow movement. The soloist was Angela Hewitt, whose fine, supple touch gleamed ravishingly through the conversational exchanges and cadenza alike. Ward created beautifully judged pacing: this was positive, gutsy, expressive Mozart that never had to rush to be lively or shout instead of singing. As encore, Hewitt treated us to a Bach sparkler, the Gigue from the Partita No 1.

Here’s a funny thing, though. Piano design grew larger through the 20th century to suit concert halls that were doing likewise. Then, guess what? Some new halls started to become smaller again. So here we were in the pleasant, modest-sized Kings Place Hall 1 and there on stage was a mahoosive Fazioli grand that must have been 10 foot long. It took up more than a third of the platform’s width; the small violin sections had to squeeze in on either side; and much of the audience would have found the crucial woodwind obscured from view by the black expanse of lid. The instrument sounded glorious, of course, but while one wouldn’t want to condemn Hewitt to the vicissitudes of an 18th-century fortepiano, the size perhaps offered pause for thought. 

Comments

Back when Tom Service ran his series of 50 articles on great symphonies in The Guardian (the like of which I now, a mere six years on, can't see that paper ever repeating - oh, how much has changed, so very quickly!), which was the cause of my discovering Farrenc 3, I wrote this, every word of which I'd stand by today:
The more I listen to this symphony, the more convinced I am of the seamless mastery with which Classical formal principles are harnessed to Romantic expressive ends, and a good decade or more before Brahms got in on the act. What we have here is an understated gem of a mid-19th-century symphony. And, in terms of this series, absolutely no tokenism: if Franck, why not Farrenc?

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