With a sparkling programme of concert classics, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Grzegorz Nowak and joined by renowned violinist Robert Davidovici were on fine form at the Cadogan Hall on Tuesday evening. They opened the programme with one of Berlioz’s operatic overtures – the only part to have survived in the current concert repertoire from his little known opera Benvenuto Cellini. Based on the memoirs of a Florentine goldsmith and sculptor and following an unsuccessful première in Paris and several revisions to the score, Berlioz decided to rescue just two chunks from the opera, turning them into the Roman Carnival Overture. This provides an orchestral arrangement of the main love theme of the opera following a cheeky opening section featuring a solo from the cor anglais. Themes are passed through fleetingly, with lovely flurries of virtuosic woodwind writing and a fantastic brassy ending which was a fantastically colourful opening to the concert.

Robert Davidovici © Miri Davidovitz
Robert Davidovici
© Miri Davidovitz

This was followed by Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, featuring tonight’s renowned soloist, Robert Davidovici. This middle period work is a large scale undertaking for both the orchestra and the soloist, with a lengthy first movement dominating the work. Following a rumbling timpani entrance, the stately Allegro non troppo features many distinctly classical phrase structures in the solo part, over the top of a rich orchestral tone with threatening undertones. Davidovici had a wonderfully clean and precise technique which soared over the orchestra and was equally soothing in the second movement, over the beautiful horn writing. The virtuosity of the solo part only really comes onto the scene in the final movement, when the violin finally gets a little of the limelight. Unfortunately the intonation was often inconsistent during the more flamboyant passages, which was a shame. The playful nature of the finale, however, with virtuosic horn writing was wonderfully boisterous and ended the first half with a flourish.

The second half of the programme was Brahms’s Symphony no. 1 in C minor – a monstrous work of epic proportions. The tormented, storm-tossed opening sequence with an eerie wind and pizzicato string theme began the gradual build up of tension and emotion in a technique that was later dubbed ‘developing variation’. The contrasts of colours employed by Brahms throughout this first movement is quite extraordinary and at each false climax the tension is racked up yet again to a dramatic conclusion.

The second and third movements are comparatively brief, with lovely rich cello and bass tones features in the Andante sostenuto, which has a beautiful dance like lilt. The playful swing of the first theme of the third movement featured a beautiful clarinet solo, which offset the beat so the audience were constantly off their guard. This was the only moment in which I felt the rich string section slightly overpowered the wind solos, but this was swiftly regained in the exciting fourth movement, where the solo French horn laid a calming aura over the brooding and dramatic opening sequence. The beautiful pastoral theme was also a breath of fresh air in the midst of the building tension which pushed forward to the well known Ode to Joy theme which emerged just before the final sequence. The brass section provided a rousing ending to the symphony.

***11