Iceland Symphony Orchestra, St David’s Hall

February 17, 2020 by
In a programme of much verity, Cardiff had the rare appearance of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. These immaculate players kept up his high standard of playing throughout the entire night and I am certain Cardiff audiences will want to see them again soon.
Starting off quite light, selections from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne suite proved pleasant in many respects and delightful on the ear. This incidental music to the play by Alphonse Daudet, has some beautiful qualities and makes a change from the usual Carmen and Pearl Fisher duet repetitions we so often get. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s rendition of the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand was a brow lifting experience, with absurd and jazzy examples, a hallmark of the composer. It’s bonkers really, a disjointed concerto (not just the one hand playing) but the orchestra gets some cracking moments, an affectionate nature rarely seen in the concert hall. Bavouzet’s clearly makes mincemeat of this frothy and well-mannered, exotic score, with long cadenzas and strident fingering. I’ve heard this strange gem in concert several time live and there is always something new to discover. An encore of what I assumed was also Ravel, was our parting gift from this fine pianist.
Composer in Residence for the orchestra, Anna Thorvaldsdottir has had her work brought front and centre with many performances around the world, with commission coming out of her ears. Getting the chance to hear Aeriality was very welcome. Her idea of portraying weightlessness and a state of floating. is brought to life in a harsh orchestral voyage. Hard work for most, though it did maintain a certain drama and intrigue. A brief moment of harmony was even more shocking, before returning to the delicate onslaught. The violas appeared to be playing forever, as the work ended and they continued to bow, with the most subtle of noise happening. Interesting stuff, if not remarkably original.
Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier had some of the most remarkable hold over the orchestra, something I’ve rarely seen. Conducting from memory for half of the programme, his free and lose gesticulation might have evoke Bernstein at times and it was hard not to be amused by his generous dance. He reached his zenith in the final part of the programme, highlights from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The famous opening is in the Montagues and Capulets, Masks, Dance with mandolins and other features. My absolute favourite sequence is Tybalt’s Death, the most heightened moment of tension in the ballet, a monumental wallop in the chops, that you soon don’t forget. This orchestral took the drama and raised it, the brass and percussion especially electric in this glorious death scene. The stirring finale of the ballet is Romeo at Juliet’s grave and Juliet’s death, soft and tender, confirming Prokofiev as a master composer. Two unidentified, strident encores appeased this audience’s needs.
Next two concerts in the International Concert Series at St David’s Hall is the Armonico Consort & Baroque Orchestra for Bach’s Mass in B minor & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Tamsin Little playing Borodin, Mozart and Brahms.
Photo Credit: Iceland Symphony Orchestra Website

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