Live review – Răzvan Suma & Rebeca Omordia: Do you like British Music?

Răzvan Suma (cello, above – photo credit Adrian Stoicoviciu), Rebeca Omordia (piano, below)

Romanian Cultural Institute, London, Thursday 9th March, 2017

Delius Romance (1896); Ireland Cello Sonata in G minor (1923); Elgar Salut d’amour, Op.12 (1888); Venables Elegy, Op.2 (1980); Matthew Walker Fast Music, Op.158 (2016); Enescu Allegro in F minor (1897); Lloyd Webber Nocturne (1948); Bridge Scherzetto, H19 (1902)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

It is not often musicians get the chance to tour unusual repertoire, though Răzvan Suma and Rebeca Omordia have been doing just so with a recital of mainly British music which tonight arrived at the Romanian Cultural Institute as part of its enterprising Enescu Concert Season.

Playing continuously for just over an hour, their choice of music made for a varied as well as cohesive programme. Opening with the discreet charm of Delius’s early Romance, its echoes of Grieg and Massenet not precluding a more personal expression, the duo continued with an account of Ireland’s Cello Sonata that was a world away from the sombre introspection most often associated with this composer’s chamber output. After a taut and impulsive take on the initial Moderato, the slow movement exuded an anxiety that motivated the expected fatalism, then a finale whose tensile progress resulted in a peroration of unusual eloquence and resolve. Certainly, Ireland’s music only stands to benefit from such a forthright approach, and it is to be hoped that Suma’s and Omordia’s advocacy will continue long beyond their present tour.

After an elegant if not too indulgent reading of Elgar’s Salut d’amour, the duo played pieces by two contemporary figures. If Ian Venables is best known for a substantial contribution to English art-song, his chamber music is not insignificant and this early Elegy gave notice of an immersion in the ‘British tradition’ never insular or derivative. Keen to offset the inward tendencies of this repertoire, Robert Matthew Walker penned Fast Music as a toccata which veers engagingly between the incisive and ironic on its way to a decidedly nonchalant close.

The performers’ Romanian lineage was acknowledged with a propulsive account of Enescu’s Allegro in F minor that seems to have been a ‘dry run’ for the opening movement of his First Cello Sonata. The suave second theme is almost identical and while the stormy main theme of this piece is a little short-winded, and its development lacks focus compared to that of the sonata, the impetus sustained here is demonstrably greater than is found in its more rhapsodic and discursive successor. Such, at least, was the impression left by this persuasive rendering.

The recital concluded with two further miniatures by English composers. Rediscovered only after his death, the Nocturne by William Lloyd Webber evinces an appealing soulfulness the greater for its brevity: to which the early Scherzetto (also relocated posthumously) by Bridge provided a telling foil in its capricious humour and flights of fancy. It certainly made for an appropriate ending to this well-conceived and superbly executed programme; one, moreover, that is eminently worth catching at one of the subsequent appearances by this impressive duo.

Further information about these artists and their current UK tour can be found at website and website

Calin Huma – ‘Carpatica’ Symphony World Premiere

philharmonic-orchestra-london

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

Finding the Romanian soul

Finding the soul of Romania – Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko play Enescu’s remarkable third sonata with music by Mozart
patricia-kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin) and Polina Leschenko (piano) – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 12 January 2015

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xrsl2

on the iPlayer until 14 February

For non-UK listeners, this Spotify playlist is available:

What’s the music?

Mozart – Sonata for Violin and Piano in B flat (1784, 20 minutes)

Georges Enescu – Violin Sonata no.3, ‘dans le caractère populaire roumain’ (‘in Romanian Folk Style’) (1926, 25 minutes)

What about the music?

Mozart wrote a mass of sonatas for piano and violin. The order of instruments is significant, because whereas now we tend to be used to the piano playing second fiddle – as it were! – to the violin, Mozart wrote for them the other way around. For this piece, the tale is that he didn’t even have a piano part ready for the first performance in Vienna, so had to make one up on the spot!

Just a week after our encounter with the remarkable Solo Cello Sonata of Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, we experience an equivalent outpouring of national passion from his contemporary, the Romanian composer Georges Enescu. A formidable violinist as well as a conductor, Enescu wrote what is regarded as one of the most difficult pieces for the instrument in 1926, looking to explore the soul of his country’s music. He does so in music of an incredibly direct nature, treating the violin as a voice at times.

Performance verdict

The Mozart proves to be a delicate palette cleanser for the main course, where the two performers feel a lot more at home in a meaty and often stormy account of Enescu’s masterpiece. It may need several listens but this is a forward thinking piece of work that brings out some extraordinary colours from Kopatchinskaya’s violin. Leschenko is no slouch either! A red hot performance.

What should I listen out for?

Listen especially for these bits:

Mozart

01:28 – the start of the piece. A polite musical language, calm and unaffecting. Kopatchinskaja uses very little vibrato here.

02:47 – Mozart moves from the slow section (marked by the Italian term Largo) to the fast (‘Allegro’). The music becomes more nimble

08:02 – The start of quite a lengthy but serene slow movement, with violin and piano imitating each other’s musical phrases.

14:42 – The beginning of the third movement, a sprightly number – where Kopatchinskaja’s outbursts suggest a bit of impatience!

Enescu

22:22 – the mysterious and almost otherworldly start of the Enescu

26:40 – the sort of broad, highly expressive melody in which the Romanian composer specialises, with animated backing on the piano.

31:30 – Enescu employs harmonics on the violin to get a really unusual, glassy sound quality, the start of a passage with a kaleidoscope of colours that reaches its peak at 34:39 with some weird and wonderful squeaks from the instrument – before 35:30 features some incredibly robust double stopping (more than one note at once on the violin) and runs on the piano from Leschenko

40:00 – A strong set of quotations from Romanian sources, with brilliant ensemble from the two players.

43:00 – Vigorous plucking to add a percussive element to the music

47:00 – the lead up to the powerful end

Encores

The duo gave two encores to the performance:

Cage – Etude for Violin and Piano (from 49:23 to 53:03)

Fritz Kreisler – Syncopation for Violin and Piano (from 54:12 to 56:22)

Want to hear more?

Mozart – one of the great master’s five violin concertos, which provides a good number of tunes (K216)

Enescu – further explorations of his country’s heritage in the Romanian Rhapsody no.1