Sibelius – The Swan of Tuonela
Shostakovich – Symphony No.1 in F Minor Op.10
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concert in D major Op.35
It was a canny move by Folkestone Symphony to invite young Bulgarian-born violinist, Tudor Trita, to perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with them in their spring concert at Holy Trinity Church in Folkestone. For, not only is Tchaikovsky’s daunting masterpiece a dead-cert audience-pleaser, the near sell-out audience were clearly in expectant and excited mood following Trita’s superb account of the Bruch Concerto with the orchestra in 2015.
And, Trita did not disappoint them. He plays with poise, exhibits a clean, strong tone – with a particularly powerful, ringing high E-string which had no trouble penetrating through the orchestral heft – and has an assured technique.
In this unfussy performance, Trita let the music speak for itself; he did not pull the tempo around too much or apply excessive coloration, relishing instead the simplicity and charm of Tchaikovsky’s melodic writing, though I felt that he might have invested the first movement’s themes with more warmth.
The more demanding the challenges set by Tchaikovsky, the more Trita seemed to relish the technical exigencies. The double-stopped passage in the Allegro Moderato that Eduard Hanslick described as ‘beating the violin black and blue’ was lightly and securely negotiated.
This is clearly a ‘work in progress’ though (Trita did not perform the concerto from memory), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the soloist’s youth, for as he ‘grows into’ the concerto more maturity will undoubtedly bring fresh ideas, a deeper Romantic spirit and a more dramatic expressive commitment.
For, while the (multitude of) notes were securely under the fingers, I would have liked to see Trita taking more delight in individual phrases and communicating more explicitly how they cohere into larger structures. There was a telling moment in the Caznonetta where the soloist’s melody is echoed by the orchestra’s first flute, and Trita’s elegance was supplemented by John Hall’s considered eloquence. More dynamic contrast in this movement would have extended the emotional range too; one does not want undue self-consciousness, just a little more expressive freedom, while respecting the classicism underlying the form.
Trita was the embodiment of concentrated focus throughout; however, during the tutti episodes I did not sense that he was listening and enjoying the orchestra’s development of the material, but rather reflecting on the forthcoming challenges of his own part. He looked a little anxious before the first movement cadenza, and there were some initial slips of intonation; technically, though, his virtuosity could not fail to impress, though I’d have liked to have seen Trita exploring the details of the cadenza more and inhabiting its temporal and dynamic flexibility.
It’s easy to say it, when one is not grappling with the trials of the soloist’s part oneself, but I longed for Trita to ‘let his hair down’ a bit and indulge in greater bravura at the climax of the racing runs he exchanges with the orchestra; more Romantic richness in the reprise of the first theme of the Allegro; or more bucolic swagger, then grit and stamp, in third movement’s second theme.
Conductor Rupert Bond, while unfailingly attentive to his soloist, certainly encouraged the orchestra to kick up a bit of a storm in the tutti passages; the orchestra pizzicatos had real bite, and the violin sections produced a sheen in the lyrical climaxes which belied their fairly small numbers. The woodwind soloists acquitted themselves well, although they struggled to settle the tuning at the start of the Canzonetta.
Bond is an economical and precise conductor who – clearly having done his preparation – is alert to every detail in the score and provides his players with consistent support. No wonder they play with confidence under his attentive baton. The pick-ups with the soloist were almost all clean and efficient, and any small wobbles were swiftly ironed out, not least because of the clear direction offered by leader Floriane Peycelon. But, while keeping his ear firmly attuned to his soloist, Bond did not neglect to cue practically every instrumental entry, with a quick flick of the baton, a nod or prompting smile. The segue flip from the easeful rallentando which closes the Canzonetta into the restless tension of the introduction to the Allegro vivacissimo was deftly done, and Trita and the Folkestone Symphony whipped up a tangible exhilaration as the movement accelerated to its close.
Unusually, the concerto followed the interval (and was the only work in the second half of the concert). Perhaps Bond did not have confidence in the good burghers of Folkestone’s enthusiasm for Shostakovich’s seldom performed First Symphony in F minor Op.10 – a work written by the eighteen-year-old composer as a graduation piece to complete his studies at the Leningrad Conservatory.
The score may be unfamiliar, but the style is not: the symphony exhibits all of Shostakovich’s musical trademarks and there are heaving helpings of sarcasm and wit alongside quasi-Mahlerian contemplation and Brahmsian Romantic passion.
It’s a demandingly virtuosic work but the players of Folkestone Symphony proved equal to its challenges. Bond created a transparent texture in the first movement, allowing the dialogues between individual instruments – solo bassoon and trumpet, for example – to be discerned. There’s a lot of diverse material – the flute’s waltz-like theme stood out – and the orchestra did well to create a sense of coherence. Duncan Lord enjoyed the piano’s soloistic contributions, surprising the audience with his pounding entry in the high-spirited Scherzo; in the subsequent trio the percussion added to the eeriness. Oboist David Montague and cellist Julie Peat were confident soloists in the dark third movement, while the significance of Floriane’s Peycelon’s contribution to the orchestra’s achievement was fully in evidence in the final movement with its almost schizophrenic mood swings and changes of tempo. Once again, Bond impressed with the straightforward efficiency of his means and methods.
The concert had opened with Sibelius’s haunting tone poem The Swan of Tuonela. This is a difficult work to pull off; one doesn’t just need a sterling cor anglais player and an expressive lead cellist, both of whom were present and correct here, but string sections that can recreate the magic and mournfulness of the mists that embrace the mythical swan as it glides around Tuonela, the island of the dead – which essentially means large sections, playing with a veiled softness. Bond didn’t quite get the balance right between the strings and soloists, and the latter might have been given – or taken? – a little more time and space to allow the eloquence of the swan’s song to make its expressive mark.
But, overall, this was a very impressive performance from the orchestra, which seems to be going from strength to strength under Bond’s direction. And, it’s particularly pleasing to see Folkestone Symphony taking some risks with their programming and offering both players and audiences fresh musical experiences.
Review by Claire Seymour