In concert – Josephine Lappin, Salomon Orchestra / Edmon Colomer – Gerhard’s Soirées de Barcelone, Falla & Turina

Josephine Lappin (piano), Salomon Orchestra / Edmon Colomer

Turina Ritmos Op.43 (1927)
De Falla Noches en los jardines de España G49 (1915)
Gerhard (ed. MacDonald) Soirées de Barcelone (1936-9, comp. 1995-6)

St. John’s, Smith Square, London
Sunday 21 May 2023

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The Salomon Orchestra celebrates its 60th anniversary this season with three concerts of real ambition. The second saw a collaboration with Edmon Colomer, whose advocacy of Spanish music in general – and Roberto Gerhard especially – was evident throughout this programme.

His second ballet, Soirées de Barcelone was also Gerhard’s largest project before the collapse of Spain’s republican government forced him into exile. A piano suite from the 1950s was the only realized portion of a work otherwise known through an orchestral suite made soon after the composer’s death. At least until 1996, when musicologist Malcolm MacDonald finished the orchestration of the whole ballet and so enabled its broadcast during Gerhard’s centenary. MacDonald’s edition was duly receiving its first public performance in the UK this afternoon.

Set in the Pyrenees at the St John’s Eve festivities, with rituals of fire purification and fertility as its scenario, Soirées… falls into three substantial tableaux where the prevalence of Catalan folk songs and dances is imbued with a motivic density and orchestral virtuosity anticipating Gerhard’s maturity. The first of these, The Crowd, features three of the items from the suite and finds this score at its most immediate; the second, Eros contains the deepest and most imaginative music – notably the sombre initial Notturno and vividly evocative Apparition of Eros. Emotional intensity falters slightly in the third tableau, The Weddings, but there is no want of impetus as the work builds to its culmination in an eloquent Sardana that resolves scenic and musical issues, then a Coda which sees the piece through to its effervescent close.

At just over 50 minutes, Soirées… is a tough assignment for any orchestra, so all credit to the Salomon for rendering its many intricacies with unfailing commitment and no little panache. It helped to have Colomer at the helm, his understanding and empathy being evident through the care over phrasing and frequent textural finesse. Only on occasion were tempi marginally under-speed to accommodate the exacting rhythmic syncopation though, as he steered a fine reading to its close, there was little doubt as to the sheer power and imagination of this music.

A dependable pianist in the Gerhard, Josephine Lappin impressed as soloist with Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, whose pervasive concertante writing often benefitted when heard from the rear of the platform. A steady yet flexible tempo for In the Generalife brought out some mysterious and even ominous undertones, while the alluring lilt of Distant Dance ensured this headed seamlessly into In the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordóba with its interplay of energy and eloquence before the performance ended in a mood of gentle rapture.

Few of Joaquín Turina’s orchestral works are revived these days, which seems more the pity as this composer was arguably the deftest Spanish orchestrator of his generation. Subtitled a ‘Choreographic Fantasy’, Ritmos made for a scintillating curtain-raiser – its six continuous sections demonstrating unforced musical logic as well as an appealing overall atmosphere. The Salomon players rendered it with infectious enjoyment, reminding one that such pieces – indeed, those in this concert as a whole – are all too infrequently heard in UK concert halls. Colomer provided an extensive spoken introduction to the Gerhard, hopefully a work he will yet record in its entirety. He rounded off this memorable concert with a breezy medley from the Zarazuela, notable for principal flautist Roy Bell taking the solo spot with his castanets.

You can read all about the 60th anniversary season and book tickets at the Salomon Orchestra website Click on the names for more on conductor Edmon Colomer and composer Roberto Gerhard – and for an article on this concert visit the composer’s publisher Boosey

Benjamin Baker, Salomon Orchestra / Holly Mathieson – Berg: Violin Concerto & Schmidt: Symphony no.4

Benjamin Baker (violin), Salomon Orchestra / Holly Mathieson

St John’s, Smith Square, London; Monday 16 October 2017

Richard Strauss, arr. Rodziński Der Rosenkavalier – Suite (1945)

Berg Violin Concerto (1935)

Schmidt Symphony No. 4 in C (1933)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Never an ensemble to shirk a challenge, the Salomon Orchestra’s current season continued tonight with what, aesthetically, was an almost perfectly balanced programme – and whose second half brought a timely revival (in the UK) of the Fourth Symphony by Franz Schmidt.

With its catalyst in the tragically unexpected death of his daughter, this work was consciously intended as an ‘in memoriam’ and this is reflected in a formal design as fuses the customary four movements into an unbroken continuity; expressively also in that salient themes return almost as memories being recollected. From which perspective this performance succeeded admirably – Holly Mathieson having the measure of an overall design as though akin to the ‘journey of a life’, whose ending is tangibly (thereby inevitably) anticipated in its beginning.

The exposition’s themes – the first as introspective as the second, with its Magyar overtones, surges forth – were judiciously contrasted, and if the development was a little too rhetorical, it evinced the right cumulative intensity leading into an Adagio whose anguished climax was set into relief by the inward eloquence on either side. A touch stolid rhythmically, the scherzo did not lack impetus as it headed – lemming-like – over its cliff of disaster; in the aftermath of which the reprise gradually re-established momentum as the work came resignedly full-circle.

Its unity within diversity aside, the Fourth Symphony is a stern test of orchestral skill such as the Salomon met head on. The strings evinced the burnished warmth necessary for this music, and while woodwind intonation was on occasion wanting, it did not undermine an orchestral texture through which brass emerged with the appropriate impact. The solo contributions were well taken, not least from trumpeter John Hackett and cellist Kate Valdar, and Mathieson can take considerable credit for her advocacy of a piece whose repertoire status is still not secure.

Photo credit: Kaupo Kikkas

Before the interval, Berg’s Violin Concerto had provided the ideal complement. Similarly inspired by the premature death of a woman (in this instance the teenage Manon Gropius), it also focusses on that continuum between life and death, as well as the transfiguration which may result. Here again the four movements, divided into two parts, can be difficult to make cohesive and though Benjamin Baker (above) was not lacking consistency, his rather unvaried tone leading to an expressive uniformity as made this, ultimately, an interpretation in the making.

Mathieson, though, was attentive and always responsive in support. Beforehand, she presided over an enjoyable account of a suite arranged towards the end of the Second World War from Der Rosenkavalier. Probably undertaken by the conductor Artur Rodziński, it takes in several of the highlights from Richard Strauss’s sprawling comedy – rather as does Robert Russell Bennett’s ‘symphonic picture’ derived from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which likewise has the result of reducing the larger work to a succession of glib purple-patches devoid of any real context.

Rendered with aplomb, it was surely possible, even so, to find a more fitting concert-opener – Zemlinsky’s Sinfonietta would have been ideal temporally and conceptually. That aside, this evening was a fine demonstration from the Salomon and auspicious occasion for Mathieson.

For more concert information from the Salomon Orchestra, head to their website

Franz Welser-Möst‘s pioneering recording of Schmidt’s Symphony no.4, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, can be heard on Spotify below: