Music: Brahms, Ravel, Debussy
Conductor: Richard Farnes
Violin soloist: Jack Liebeck
Reviewer: David Gann
There was a delight on the faces and shared comments of those in the audience as we rose to leave Leeds Town Hall. This was a concert to remember. We had experienced truly inspirationalmusic, orchestral playing and conducting of the highest order.
The musical sensitivities and cultural awareness of the audience were cleverly aroused by the breadth, yet levels of connection that the choice of pieces inspired in their juxtaposition one with the other.
There was no ‘curtain raiser’, so often the concert format; we were straight into the Brahms. This concerto, written in 1879, is not for the lightweight – especially the mighty first movement. It is a powerful Germanic discourse between lyricism and rhythmic tension; that symphonic dialogue almost bursting at the seams as Brahms, so influenced by Beethoven, is pushing on the coat-tails of the Classical era. Reaching out to the new Romantic age of the hyperbole of expression – almost to the very limits of what a violin can do – yet it never just for the sake of the virtuosic – always within taught yet warm and passionate musical integrity.
Jack Liebeck gave an assured performance with a tone, tonality, and technical command that was simply superb as he negotiated with artistic and technical passion this full range of lyrical sweep and seemingly impossible interval leaps.
After the interval, at first it felt like a cultural lurch as we were propelled into a French aesthetic with Ravel’s La Valse (c.1920). Ravel, like Brahms forty years before, was taking an established genre – the Viennese Waltz. It pushes at the boundaries; informed by a changing world-view – one that had been shattered by world events – even if (as claimed by the composer) it wasn’t conscious. The music takes on a level of irony, sardonic humour and finally cataclysmic power that takes us certainly into the 20th Century, and beyond that which could be called Romanticism.
As we go back in time to Debussy (c.1905), so revolutionary for its time, we were able to hear that new palette already emerging, along with the chromaticism, tonal washes, and instrumental groupings (including the use of harp, percussion and solo instruments). So delicate in comparison with the Ravel, and yet establishing a harmonic and melodic style that would be so influential as the century progressed. Though still described as ‘symphonic sketches’, the inspiration wasn’t now principally musical form, but the musical onomatopoeia of an animate object, namely here, the sea.
The orchestra was just wonderful. The sheer brilliance of all its sections; the power, tone and perfect tuning of the brass section, the ensemble and beauty of the woodwind playing, the expertise of the percussion, and of course a string section that is always so precise and responsive – all held with absolute command by Richard Farnes who is most definitely a conductor of distinction. This musical experience was certainly hightened and enriched by the live experience of both seeing and hearing such a superb live orchestra in action.
Reviewed as part of the International Concert Season http://www.leedsconcertseason.com/