The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Town Hall on 13 May 2015.
“Revelatory” is how the Orchestra of the Swan describe the reduced version of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto that they performed with Raphael Wallfisch in this final concert of their 14-15 Town Hall series. Hopefully they won’t take it as a criticism if we don’t go quite so far. This was no Schoenberg-style re-imagination; simply the standard version with the timpanist doubling on triangle and the brass section slightly pruned, the better to balance a chamber-orchestra string section.
On its own terms, it worked pretty well: for much of the piece, you’d have been hard-pressed to spot the difference. There was a noticeable increase in transparency; conductor David Curtis went for no-nonsense tempi and crisp articulation. Whether that’s the best way to find the heart of this most romantic of all cello concertos is a matter of personal taste; but it certainly brought some wonderful moments. It’s hard to imagine a full orchestra allowing Wallfisch to sing his first statement of Dvorak’s glorious horn theme (surely the greatest single melody he ever wrote) quite so exquisitely dolce.
And if anything was revelatory about this concert, it was the sheer beauty of Wallfisch’s playing – dignified but gentle, eloquent without ever sounding forced; lit by an inner glow. He played the opening melody of Dvorak’s Silent Woods in one breathless phrase, and in Dvorak’s Rondo Op.94 his tone seemed to float over the bustling orchestra. These were wonderful foils to the exuberant, explosive account of Mozart’s Prague symphony with which Curtis, in an inspired choice, had opened the concert. Wallfisch’s playing placed these two neglected miniatures on a comparable plane of inspiration.