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Brighton Philharmonic 11 November 2018 (Susan Elkin reviews)

A pleasant enough concert but I have to say that, given the date, to programme Rossini, Beethoven and Dvorak all in fairly upbeat populist mood seemed a very odd choice indeed. Was it the only concert – or event – in the country on that date not to acknowledge the centenary of the 1918 Armistice? Most of the performers and audience were wearing poppies but beyond that: nothing.

It meant that the whole afternoon felt a bit understated although the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra was in excellent playing form as ever – this time with pianist, Freddie Kempf on the podium.

We began with Rossini’s spritely, witty overture to Semiramide which was delivered with colourful brio. I particularly liked the pizzicato and piccolo sections and of course the playful dynamics of those famous crescendi which Kempf brought off with promising aplomb. It was an encouraging start.

Then it was reduced forces and a great deal of stage management ready for Kempf to direct Beethoven’s third piano concerto from the keyboard. Well, it’s been done many times before but one felt that the multitasking was a challenge too far in this case. Of course Kempf can play the concerto perfectly, as we all know, but on this occasion leaping up from the piano stool to face the orchestra and dropping back for his entries resulted in too many wrong notes and sometimes hesitant orchestra entries because the direction was unclear or fractionally late, especially in the largo. And in places the overall effect was mechanical. Nonetheless the first movement cadenza was pretty spell-binding and I liked the way he used his head and eyes to communicate with the orchestra while seated.

Dvorak 7 with its melodious, Slavic D minor should have been the high spot of the concert. Sadly, for me, it wasn’t. It may be a matter of personal taste and interpretation but I like my Dvorak much more lightly joyful than Kempf’s account of it. It’s admirable that he focuses on the beauty of the detail and refuses to overindulge in gratuitous prestissimo but much of the first movement was far too portentous and I didn’t care for the unusually grandiose adagio. Even the scherzo, competently played as it was, seemed to be a lot of excitable revving up without ever quite achieving vivace lift-off. Not until the final movement did the Dvorakian aircraft really fly with some memorable brass moments and lots of very precise allegro string work. There was a finely managed intersectional acoustic balance at this point too – but it had taken almost all afternoon to get there.

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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