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Brigton Philharmonic 13 February 2022 (Susan Elkin reviews)

An unusual five work programme, this concert began and ended with Mendelssohn via two contrasting Ravel favourites and a dip into Fauré – all of it very familiar territory.

Barry Wordsworth is a poised figure on the podium. As Conductor Laureate and Music Director and Principal Conductor here for 26 years, he knows the Brighton Philharmonic very well. With little fuss he drew out all the melodic calm and storm in Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides with some nicely pointed brass interjections and well balanced string work.

Then in completely different mood came Fauré’s Pavanne, lovingly played. The rippling pizzicato was allowed to resonate beneath the melody without rushing. The solo wind passages, especially the horn were sweet and evocative.

Of course for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, the showiest work in this concert, you need four percussionists all now in place ready for that arresting opening whip crack. Soloist Junyan Chen with her shiny dress and scarlet striped hair looked as glitzy as she and Wordsworth made the music sound. It’s a piece which changes mood frequently and I liked the accurate but sensitive way the cross rhythms, alternating with rich lyricism was delivered. Chen has a knack of watching Wordswoth almost continuously which made for an exhilaratingly coherent performance especially in the incisive framing movements. In contrast her long solo passages in the middle adagio assai movement were gently impassioned.

It’s hard to believe that the five component movements of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite were originally written as piano pieces to be played by the Godebski children with whose family he was close friends. What talented children they must have been! Brighton Philharmonic’s rendering of the orchestral version of these colourful fairy tales in music showcased especially pleasing work from flute, xylophone harp, celeste and contrabassoon. It also made me realise – thanks BPO – how unusual it is to hear the entire suite, used as we are to exterpolated movements on, for example, radio.

And so finally to the glorious ebullience of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony. I played in a performance of this work just a few weeks ago and know how essential if is to get the rapid string work crisp. Wordsworth did it with aplomb – as he did the eloquent rests and pauses. He also gave us plenty of minor key tip-toeing mystery in the andante and lilting warmth in the third movement nothwithstanding the occasional ragged entry. The saltarello presto finale whipped along excitingly, as it must, with some pleasing decisive playing from the strings and attractive wind sound especially from flute and bassoon.

First published by Lark Reviews:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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