Richard Whitehouse on the London premiere of a new work from Romanian composer Calin Huma from the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of London under Christopher Petrie, with Leslie Howard joining them for Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto
Cadogan Hall, London on Thursday 17 December
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto no.2 (1901)
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody no.2 (1901)
Calin Huma: Symphony, ‘Carpatica’ (London premiere) (2015)
Leslie Howard (piano), Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of London / Christopher Petrie
The Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of London has demonstrably established itself on the London calendar over its two years of existence, with tonight’s programme surely the most enterprising yet. Leslie Howard was on hand for Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto – and a reading which, while offering little in the way of a fresh perspective, was for the most part finely articulated and well-coordinated. The opening Moderato was a touch stolid in its earlier stages, though the second theme was raptly conveyed on its return, then the central Adagio had pathos and, in its scherzo section, deftness to spare. The twin themes of the final Allegro were pointedly contrasted, the PCO nimbly negotiating the fugato at its centre, and the return of the ‘big tune’ capping the whole in a generous yet not over-bearing peroration.
Music by Romanian composers followed in the second half, which began with the welcome revival of Enescu’s Second Romanian Rhapsody. While its predecessor has latterly regained much of its former popularity, this piece is heard but seldom – its melodic eloquence at one with its largely ruminative persona. Christopher Petrie assuredly had its measure – whether in the soulful expression of its initial pages (Enescu’s deployment of traditional melodies at its most alluring), cumulative build-up to its fervent central climax, then the gradual ebbing away of emotion towards its close; a sense of place fleetingly if tangibly evoked. Hopefully this orchestra will go on to perform other works by Enescu – not least the First Orchestral Suite, whose mesmerising unison ‘Prelude’ would doubtless be relished by the PCO strings.
For now, listeners were treated to the London premiere (and only the second performance) of the ‘Carpatica’ Symphony by Calin Huma (b 1965), the Romanian entrepreneur who has been based in Hampshire these past two decades. Huma has professed himself an avowed neo-Romantic in terms of aesthetic, and the present piece looks back beyond Enescu to the Romantic nationalism of Eduard Caudella (1841-1924) while evincing the melodic directness of more recent figures as Nicolae Kirculescu (1903-85), whose Moment Muzical (or at least its main theme) was well known to Romanian listeners in the 1960s and ‘70s. Huma’s work shared something of its unabashed nostalgia, yet whether the three movements of this half-hour piece amounted to anything which approaches a cohesive conception is open to doubt.
That it failed to do so was hardly the fault of the PCO, whose strings played with lustre, or of Petrie – who directed with sure conviction of where this rhapsodic music ought to be headed. Not that this prevented the lengthy first movement from losing focus before its final climax, while its successor – more a slow intermezzo than a slow movement – would have benefitted from a more flowing tempo. The finale brought a welcome degree of energy, its main theme capping the whole with a decisiveness in which the ends came closest to justifying the means.
A section from Petrie’s own Fantasia on Christmas Carols made for a winsome and appealing encore. More Romanian music from this source would be most welcome: the 90th birthday of Pascal Bentoiu, doyen of post-war composers, in April 2017 provides just such an opportunity.
You can listen to more music from the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of London on their website