Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra
September 18 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
A joyously fruitful collaboration between young UK and Russian musicians
How often does a concert begin with a national anthem these days? And Wednesday night’s began not only with ours but with Russia’s as well.
The reason? The BSFO consists of top young UK and Russian musicians, playing together in a spirit of cultural friendship and demonstrating just how universal the language of music is. Their performance of music by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky was clearly the fruit not only of their natural talent but also of deep probing of the scores during rehearsal. Their founding conductor Jan Latham-Koenig has a sharp eye for telling detail and achieves the sort of freshness which can arise only from rigorous rehearsal.
Take two items from the programme: The Lark Ascending and the 1812 Overture, two of the most often performed pieces in the repertoire. Soloist Jennifer Pike was magical in the Vaughan Williams, creating a sense of wonder, her playing as light as air, her trills beautifully controlled – and as she soared upwards into the infinite at the end her tone was so pure and ethereal that you could sense the audience holding their breath.
But perhaps most surprising was the start of the 1812 Overture. Just when you think this mighty old warhorse has outstayed its welcome, along comes the BSFO and breathes fresh life into it. Jan Latham-Koenig made the cellos and violas sing the imperial Russian anthem with such subtly nuanced phrasing that for once the beginning of the Overture had at least as much impact as the bells and cannons at the end.
And as if all this wasn’t enough actors Edward Fox and his son Freddie were onstage to recite George Crabbe, George Meredith and (to the accompaniment of Shostakovich’s incidental music) scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’m not sure that the words were always strictly necessary to help the music makes its point, but the Fox family are masters of their craft, alert both to the meaning and the music of the words.
The concert ended with huge cheers, a standing ovation and a Shostakovich waltz as encore.
Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra, conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig
Jennifer Pike (violin)
Edward Fox and Freddie Fox (actors)