An exceptional concert from this fine orchestra in Bristol last night, the programme repeated in Portsmouth tonight. Playing under a succession of conductors other than their principal, Kirill Krabbits, and in a variety of works, they seem able to maintain and even improve on their high standards. Yan Pascal Tortelier was on the podium last night and obtained a passionate and unified performance of pieces from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet, every part of the orchestra responding to his energetic direction, but I earlier I was especially moved at the wonderful tone of the woodwind, in Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto.
This for many, in the larger than usual audience in the Colston Hall, may have been the draw, for the soloist was the much lauded Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who has been receiving rave reviews for his recordings and live performances. The Gramophone Magazine, reviewing the Elgar concerto in January 2008, applauds his impeccable and technical address and miraculous true intonation.
His ‘contribution is remarkable for its intrepid emotional scope, athletic agility and (perhaps above all) jaw-dropping delicacy’. Of the same disc, The Daily Telegraph says in the same month, ‘it is a landmark recording from a consummate artist whose instincts and sensibility mark him out as one of the finest musicians in today’s firmament’.
I can hardly do better than that! What especially impressed me however,was the total security of the playing, the purity and seamlessness of the line, and the complete lack of the flamboyance often associated with the soloists of this instrument. Ehnes just (just!) played his 1715 Stradivarius with the utmost confidence in the score and his skill. At the end of the cadenza with its beautiful quiet repeated top note, he didn’t throw up his bow in triumph as some soloists might have done, but gently rejoined the orchestra as the movement came near to its end.
It was such a perfect performance that I wished Tchaikovsky could have managed a fourth movement, so that the experience of rapport between soloist, orchestra and audience could have gone on. It gave me a new respect for a work which I have always liked but never loved, as I did last night. The audience roared their applause when it was over, and were favoured with an encore of a piece by Bach.
The concert began with a piece from Richard Struass’ Intermezzo which was a beautiful quiet introduction to the evening, quite new to me and perfectly played. After the excitement and almost painful traumas of the Prokofiev, in the deaths of Juliet and Romeo, the concert ended; quiet, as had been its beginning.
Quite an evening.