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Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 06 June 2024 (Susan Elkin reviews)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

St Giles Church, Cripplegate

06 June 2024

The opening concert in the 2024 Summer Music in City Churches began with Finzi’s Introduction to Love’s Labours Lost – thus setting the theme for the whole festival which is this year entitled Love’s Labours and focused  on “love, romance and Shakespeare in the heart of London’ Square Mile”.

Conductor Pierre Vallet, looking dapper in a rather unusual French navy suit, got the concert off to a rousing start with Finzi’s trumpet fanfares and drum rolls followed by a big fat, regal tune.

Chopin’s Piano Concerto Number 2 in F minor then came as complete contrast. I first met this lovely piece half a century ago (gulp) when I played second violin in a performance with Kettering Symphony Orchestra with Richard Markham, then still a student, as soloist. And I’ve never understood the snooty, dismissive critics who say Chopin couldn’t orchestrate because he certainly could. And Vallet demonstrated that by making sure we noticed all the colourful nuances.

Elizabeth  Sombart is a charismatic soloist and seated well in front of the orchestra she gave a pretty immersive performance. I was, for example, only 12 feet or so from her.  Her face was feeling, almost caressing the music especially in the larghetto which she played with a lot of rubato and silky romance particularly at the recap when the melody comes back with decoration. Vallet meanwhile made a fine job of keeping the orchestra together in delicate harmonic sympathy. Then came the Mazurka-based finale (lots of col legno which is always fun) played both by Sombart and the orchestra with flamboyant colour. She is, incidentally, the only soloist I have ever seen return to the platform alone to stand the orchestra up – a rather touching tribute to mutual respect.

The concert ended, after the interval, with Mendelssohn’s  Symphony no 4 in A (The Italian)  which is a pretty perfect choice for a summer evening in a scenic venue. Vallet launched the Allegro vivace at a cracking pace. There’s a great deal of very busy string work in this movement, delivered here with frisky aplomb. The vibrant woodwind playing in the Andante was another high spot  and I liked the warm lilt Vallet found for the third movement along with the strong brass work in the “trio” section.  The concluding Salterello needs to go like the wind – and it did. Full marks for urgent energy.

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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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