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Review: Beethoven One, Royal Northern Sinfonia and soloists at Sage Gateshead

Beethoven was upstaged in a concert also featuring works by Sibelius and Shostakovich at Sage Gateshead

Royal Northern Sinfonia
Royal Northern Sinfonia

It was one of those unusual nights when the headline work was overshadowed by the supporting music.

Beethoven’s First Symphony has much to commend it. Written when the composer was in his twenties, it is tuneful yet full of daring and with an experimental style compared to his immediate predecessors, Mozart and Haydn.

This work laid the ground well for his future symphonic work, and there were many touches familiar to all lovers of his music.

But it was the works by Sibelius and Shostakovich which really held the attention of a good crowd in Hall One.

Sir Patrick Moore will have been smiling benevolently from above when the introductory chords of Sibelius’s incidental music to Maeterlinck’s play, Pelléas and Mélisande, rang out.

At The Castle Gate was used as the theme music to the BBC’s The Sky at Night from 1957 onwards.

The work itself is a series of nine contrasting short pieces written to frame scenes in the play, from its rich opening to the poignant reflection on the death of Mélisande.

They act as interludes and preludes rather than to reflect the action directly, as a film score does.

While the first element was played faster than is usual, the overall effect was excellent, and the whole work serves as a fine concert piece.

Maybe the incidental music Sibelius wrote for King Christian II and Swanwhite, among other plays, will find its way into future Sage concerts.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and Strings was a real firecracker of a piece.

It saw the evening’s fine guest conductor, Olli Mustonen, on piano as well – and can he play!

The work is a mix of styles, influences and parodies, showing the composer at his wittiest and most exuberant.

With allusions to Beethoven, Haydn and folk music, it made for a coherent and enjoyable piece with piano and trumpet – faultless playing by the orchestra’s principal trumpet, Richard Martin – to the fore.

One certainty is that the next instalment in the Beethoven cycle, his ninth and Choral Symphony, will not be overshadowed by the supporting work by Mahler.

You can hear it on April 2 in Hall One.

Rob Barnes


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