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Extraordinary playing - superbly conducted

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: July 06, 2011

  • IMPRESSIVE: Venezuelan conductor Christian Vasquez. Right, Soloist cellist Jamie Walton.

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Philharmonia Orchestra

Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple

Review: Richard Westcott

THE house was as packed as the stage – and rightly so – for this quite extraordinary Philharmonia concert. Special not so much for the programme choice, pleasing as it was with its own narrative, but for the sheer quality of the music making.

We began gently enough with Elgar's much loved Serenade for strings. Under Christian Vasquez's sensitive baton Elgar's gentle English hills rolled, with a depth of focus beautifully enhanced by the leader's lovely solo work in the foreground, supported by a strong but supple bass line and exemplary ensemble playing throughout.

His cello concerto is of course much darker. Jamie Walton attacked this, drawing forth the pain and anguish, particularly in the last movement with that awful marche macabre and eventual dissolution into tears: Elgar's despair at the suffering of war bit deep.

And so, interestingly, to Tchaikovsky's 4th – another study of angst. Stark and loud indeed were the opening chords of this spirited performance, which started as it meant to go on, urged ever forwards by Vasquez's drive.

The full force of this large orchestra was superbly deployed by this impressive conductor, using no score. Yet almost the most memorable aspect of his fresh reading was the quiet playing – the pizzicato work in the third movement, the impeccable sequences of woodwind cascades (plus a superb solo oboe) and brass playing of the highest quality.

It was appropriate indeed at the end for Vasquez to plunge deep into his orchestra to give proper acknowledgement to the various individuals and sections.

The crazy helter-skelter race to the end had been truly vertiginous, if not breathless, the applause heart-felt. Nostalgia and sadness, anger and depression may afflict us, but – in the composer's own words – simple straightforward joys do exist, and we can take pleasure from the joy of others.

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